Man sentenced for poisoning Critically Endangered vultures in Guinea-Bissau


A man has been fined and sent to prison for four years for poisoning Critically Endangered vultures in Guinea-Bissau.

Investigations revealed that more than 2,000 Hooded Vultures were poisoned in eastern Guinea-Bissau between September 2019 and March 2020 in order to collect their heads, in the belief that these 'artefacts' bring good luck. This was the largest recorded poisoning event in the country.

Toxicological analysis identified the poison used as methiocarb, a pesticide banned in Europe but still legal in Guinea-Bissau. The deaths came under the backdrop of increasing demand for vulture heads from Senegal for belief-based use.

The heads of Hooded Vultures are traded across borders as 'good luck charms' (Richard Crossen).

In the wake of the poisonings, several arrests were made based on information supplied by Organização para a Defesa e Desenvolvimento das Zonas Húmidas (ODZH), which had the support of BirdLife International and the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group.

One individual was prosecuted for 'environmental crime' and 'destruction of public property', which provided the only basis to press for a charge under the country's legal framework. This resulted in a prison sentence of over four years and a fine equivalent to US$1,500 for the killing of 50 vultures.

The landmark prosecution was the first time an individual has been charged for environmental crimes in the country. The prosecutor who put the put forward had been moved to act by an awareness campaign.

Of the estimated world population of 197,000 Hooded Vultures, Guinea-Bissau hosts approximately 22%, but prices for the birds' body parts are rising as the species becomes rarer.

Conservationists have highlighted the urgency of the situation, with urgent action needed to halt the trade and raise awareness of the critical role of vultures in disease control and waste removal. Increased awareness and better enforcement of legislation has also been called for, alongside tighter controls on cross-border trade.

Old World vultures are among the most endangered groups of birds globally. The last 30 years have seen vulture numbers in West Africa crash by around a third.