At least 150 critically endangered vultures have been poisoned in separate incidents in Botswana and South Africa, conservationists said last Friday, warning that the killings were pushing the birds closer to extinction.

Poisoning of vultures is not uncommon in wildlife-rich southern Africa, where they are targeted by poachers because they attract unwanted attention to their illegal activities.

Their heads are also used in traditional medicine, according to wildlife groups. In the latest incidents, more than 50 white-backed vultures were found dead in Botswana’s northern Chobe district last Friday.

About 100 more were spotted in the Kruger National Park last Thursday, according to vulture conservation group Vulpro.

In both cases, the birds died after feeding on a buffalo carcass that appeared to be laced with poison, said vulture conservation program founder Carrie Wolter.

“What makes it even more catastrophic is that it’s breeding season,” Walter said, explaining that chicks cannot survive without their parents.

ALSO READ: More than 100 vultures die in suspected poisoning in Kruger Park

Park officials in South Africa said they were investigating the incident, adding that some of the carcasses appeared to have been harvested for body parts.

“Given the critical status of vultures worldwide, poisonings on this scale put the species at increasing risk of extinction,” Yolan Fridman, head of conservation at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said in a statement about the Kruger incident.

The white-backed vulture is included in the Red List of endangered birds of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of the largest vulture deaths recorded in recent years in Botswana was in 2019, when 537 carcasses were found in Chobe Game Reserve after they ate the carcasses of three elephants killed by poachers.

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