A group of graduates from university of Rwanda in agriculture and environment are striving to save hooded vultures, ones of biodiversity species that are critically endangered. The Hooded Vulture is an African endemic and critically endangered vulture species that feeds primarily on human waste. Hooded vultures are the most widespread vulture species in Rwanda, threatened by habitat loss due to expansion of infrastructure, felling of trees, depletion of food and lack of public awareness. Jean Claude Dusabimana, the Executive Director of Nature Rwanda, a non-governmental organisation of which he is co-founder, said vultures kill bacteria that cause diseases to people adding that saving them is prerequisite. “We started the organisation as fresh graduates in 2016 but legally and officially started to operate in 2019. One of our programmes is saving critically endangered vultures. We are working with community volunteers ‘Vulture Guardians’ in monitoring the population of Hooded Vultures across the country,” he said. Vulture is a bird in the family of birds that includes eagles and others. Dusabimana said that the founders are working to save the six threatened vulture species found in Rwanda. Currently the vulture population at 15 sites is being monitored across the country. “We counted a good number of them and active nests at Busaga forest. The forest must be protected for the sake of its biodiversity and the well-being of the local communities because all hooded vultures across the country reproduce from this forest and before spreading to other parts,” he said. Located in Rongi Sector of Muhanga District, Busaga natural forest once occupied 300 hectares of land but has been reduced to less than 150 hectares due to agriculture, wood exploitation and settlement. Other activities that have led to the near extinction of this forest include illegal hunting, clay mining and logging, which have also decimated wildlife. “If the forest is degraded, it could lead to total extinction of vultures in Rwanda,” he said. What endangered vultures? Nearly all species of African vulture are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. One of the greatest threats to vultures is poachers. Vultures can draw attention to the bodies of animals that illegal hunters leave behind. To avoid detection, poachers have begun to purposefully poison their kills. Farmers also play a role in killing the vultures when they try to distract predators like lions, dogs and others with poisoned carcasses on the edge of their property and the poison also ends up killing vultures. “The time lions disappeared in Rwanda, it is the time the population of vultures also drastically decreased. Vultures eat meat that is left by other animals. That is why when lions were poisoned and killed in Akagera National park, the population of vultures’ population also decreased,” he said. He said that vultures have been disappearing as they also lose food and habitat. “People also have the wrong information that hooded vultures are predators. So People like poultry farmers hunt them. There is also an issue of traditional beliefs where they are hunted by traditional healers,” he said. He said that research is being carried out to detect any vulture habitats that might have remained in the country. “After identifying all the habitats we will work with the government to conserve them. We have also trained youth who are helping to identify the places,” he noted. One indicator that vultures are on extinction is that you can’t find a hooded vulture at Nduba landfill yet vultures are fed upon waste, he said, adding that they also want to set up vultures’ rescue centre. “We are raising funds to be able to set up the centre,” he said. How vulture conservation can prevent another pandemic Vultures have evolved to have a particularly corrosive stomach acid, which helps them digest rotting prey that would make most other animals, including humans, quite sick. “The vultures kill bacteria in waste that cause diseases to people,” Dusabimana explained. They halt the spread of diseases thereby preventing the outbreak of epidemic diseases such as Anthrax, Rabies, Tuberculosis, Botulism, tetanus, gangrene, and cholera in humans. Without these valuable scavengers, bacteria from rotting bodies are transferred to a wider array of animals and can eventually spread to the human population as bacterial or viral infections like Covid-19, researchers have said. “Vulture conservation is a viable way to prevent a health crisis like the one in India, or even the one being experienced across the world with the Covid-19 pandemic,” they say. Dusabimana was recently sharing the solution to the endangered hooded vultures with youth that were gathered in TEDX Climate Change Countdown event dubbed “Tackling Climate Change” in Kigali that was parallel to COP26 climate change summit where different climate change solutions were shared. TEDX is an annual event that brings together the world’s leading thinkers and doers to share ideas that matter in any discipline like science, business, technology and others. Saddam Hussein Kiiza, TEDx Licensed organiser, said that the sharing climate solutions is timely considering the ongoing climate change summit in Scotland as a way of inspiring solutions to climate change. “We have made several recommendations including involving young people and children in climate change conversations and projects since the climate change crisis will have a greater impact on the young generations,” he said.