Durban - Another seven vultures have died close to the scene of the recent mass poisoning of nearly 50 others on a farm associated with the family of businessman and farmer Gary Porritt in the Swartberg district of East Griqualand.
Wildlife officials confirmed that a neighbouring farmer found the latest casualties on his property and reported the deaths to bird conservation groups on Monday.
Cobus Theron, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation programme, said he suspected the latest deaths could be linked to those of 48 Cape Vultures and a White-Backed Vulture which were found on New Hope farm near Swartberg two weeks ago.
It is believed the birds may have died after eating a lamb carcass poisoned with carbofuran, an agricultural chemical powder used to kill jackals.
The police confirmed that they were investigating several charges, but had not made any arrests. Police spokesperson Vincent Mdunge said the farm where the birds were found appeared to be owned by a trust.
However, it is understood that the farm is linked to a trust associated with Porritt.
Porritt could not be reached for comment.
His son, Murray, who was present on New Hope Farm when Ezemvelo and bird conservation officials collected the carcasses on July 16, declined to comment about the incident.
Joburg attorney Frank Cohen, who acts on behalf of the Porritts and the Snowdon Farm Trust which owns several farms in the Swartberg area, told The Mercury that he only became aware of the mass vulture poisoning.
“I have spoken to Gary’s two sons to try and find out more details, but I’m not in a position to add very much at the moment. I haven’t been able to speak to Gary because they are in the middle of the maize harvest at the moment.
“But this is a very sad and serious matter. It is something that will have to be investigated properly. This is a tragedy and every co-operation will be given.
“We would like to make sure nothing like this can happen again.”
Cohen said the farm did not belong to the Snowdon Farm Trust, but he thought it was owned by the New Hope Trust.
When asked who owned New Hope farm and who could comment on the poisoning, Murray Porritt said: “I’m not sure who can comment on this. We are doing an investigation at the moment and I don’t think the trust wants to make a comment at the moment.
“I’m not really the person to speak to about this and I’m not sure who can give you more information. I really just deal with the crops on the farms (not the livestock).”
Porritt jr said he was not aware that any charges had been laid against the farm managers or other parties.
Brian Aitken, president of the Kwanalu farming union, said the deliberate or accidental poisoning of wildlife was “totally unacceptable”.
“Incidents like this make us very angry because it gives farmers a bad name and our association does not want to be associated with this kind of behaviour.”
Theron, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said: “This event has cast a shadow over efforts that have been initiated in the district with farmers interested in conservation practices and land stewardship. Many of them are furious that this has taken place”
Conservationist Gerhard Verdoorn of the Griffon poison information centre said he expected many more vultures had died after flying back to their roosts and nesting sites.
He said the Cape Vulture was a globally threatened species and he called for the “harshest possible penalties” for those found to be responsible for the poisoning. - The Mercury