Spotted Eagle Owl Feature Image

Let’s Be Owl Wise

At the beginning of June, Dagny discovered one of Zeekoevlei’s resident male spotted eagle owls, weak and sick, on the ground, he was able to pick the bird up quite easily, which indicated just how sick it was and he also suspected that it was suffering from concussion.

Caracal Post Image

Rat Poison Threat to City’s Peri-urban Caracals & Wildlife

Male caracal, one of six main species affected by lethal rodenticides infiltrating Cape Town’s wildlife food chain. Photo Fenton Cotterill.

Urban rat poisons are spilling over into Cape Town’s natural environment, threatening species such as caracal, mongoose, otter and owl.

Anticoagulant rat poisons are infiltrating Cape Town’s peri-urban wildlife food chains, according to a team of University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers in the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild).

The team’s recent paper, in the journal Science of the Total Environment, identified six predator species at risk: caracal, Cape clawless otter, Cape Eagle Owl, large spotted genet, honey badger and water mongoose. Others are likely affected as well.

These animals already face challenges that include increasing habitat loss, vehicle collisions, poachers and fire, said lead author Dr Laurel Serieys, a postdoctoral research fellow in iCWild.

The study was conducted within and around Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park, and is believed to be the first of its kind in South Africa. It measured the presence and concentration of rat poison compounds in liver and blood samples from 41 animals, with a special focus on caracal as part of the Urban Caracal Project.

Young male caracal. These wild cats face the highest exposure to rat poisons by preying on the rodents. Photo Laurel Serieys.

At 92%, exposure to rat poisons was highest for caracal. Overall, they found 81% exposure across seven species tested. The predators aren’t eating the poisons directly. Rather, the poisons are designed to work slowly in their target species, rats, who become sick over a period of days and end up as easy prey for predators.

“We detected at least one of the four most toxic rat poison compounds, all available in over-the-counter products, in six of the seven species tested.”

“We detected at least one of the four most toxic rat poison compounds, all available in over-the-counter products, in six of the seven species tested,” said Dr Jacqueline Bishop, lead supervisor on the project.

Caracals living in or near vineyards had the highest exposure to rat poisons but the route to exposure is unclear.

“Vineyards in Cape Town don’t use rat poisons to protect their vines, but they do host restaurants, spas and hotels and occur adjacent to dense residential areas where rat poisons are widely used. Caracals regularly hunt in vineyards and it is here that they are likely to be exposed to poisoned rats, in and around urban structures,” she said.

Non-target species conundrum

The researchers focused their poison testing on caracal but were also able to opportunistically test several other species that had died after being hit by cars, including Cape clawless otters, large spotted genets, honey badgers, water mongoose, small grey mongoose and the Cape Eagle Owl.

The fact that these species use different habitats shows that rat poisons may profoundly impact many different species.

“It also suggests, in the case of otters, that polluted water run-off from urban areas could transport the poisons into Cape Town’s waterways and the aquatic food chain,” said collaborator Dr Nicola Okes.

The results of the study echo the growing pesticide threat to biodiversity globally. Poisons used in and around urban and agricultural areas often kill species indiscriminately and can impact the ecosystem.

“There is mounting evidence globally that rat poisons are a critical threat to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.”

“There is mounting evidence globally that rat poisons are a critical threat to wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. To really understand this problem locally has taken support from the public, from SANParks and the City of Cape Town in reporting the locations of animals hit by cars so they could be included in our study,” said Bishop.

Serieys, a graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, is doing her postdoc with Bishop. The two met in 2013 during a conservation genetics workshop in the Kruger Park and discussed her dream to work on urban cats in South Africa.

Together they developed the framework for the Urban Caracal Project, making use of multiple methods to understand how these predators persist in the rapidly urbanising landscape of Cape Town.

Postdoctoral research fellow Laurel Serieys with a caracal kitten. Photo Laurel Serieys.

“The caracal is one of the flagship species for iCWild,” said Professor Justin O’Riain, director of the institute.

“It is one of only a few medium-sized wildlife species that persist in and around urban and rural landscapes, benefiting from the absence of apex predators and access to prey that feed on the abundant food in these environments. Unfortunately, this bounty is coming at a cumulative cost.”

Rat poisons freely available

Rat poisons are widely available in supermarkets and hardware stores; and as an option for pest control are often the only product available. Mechanical traps are considerably harder to find.

Bishop noted that there is also widespread public misconception about rodent poison boxes, seen commonly in areas around the city: The rats do not enter the bait box, eat the poison and immediately die. They leave the bait box before the anti-coagulant actions of the poisons kick in, allowing them to re-enter the food chain.

One of the most significant findings of the study is that exposure occurs at all ages. Several lactating female caracals were sampled in the study and found to be exposed to rat poisons, suggesting that kittens may be exposed through their mother’s milk.

The bigger picture

The Urban Caracal Project has grown into a large-scale research programme that sparks a lot of community interest, said Bishop. Thanks to the project’s public outreach efforts, members of the community can interface directly with the researchers and contribute to their work by reporting caracal sightings and learning about the project’s development through its Facebook page.

The project has also garnered international interest from researchers wanting to contribute to the research team’s efforts to identify the many threats to Cape Town’s caracals and strategise effective conservation of these elusive cats.

The researchers hope that their study’s findings will stimulate a dialogue on how to reduce environmental contamination by rat poisons and other toxins, and help pinpoint directions for targeted mitigation.

“As consumers, we need more eco-friendly alternatives to rat poison and the simplest solution is well within everyone’s reach.”

“As consumers, we need more eco-friendly alternatives to rat poison and the simplest solution is well within everyone’s reach – improve the management of waste which attracts rats in the first place.”

She added: “Coming up with solutions is relatively straightforward, but implementing solutions, changing policy, changing minds, in this case about waste management and the sloppy use of rat poisons, these are the challenges that led to our forming the interdisciplinary Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa.”

Want to learn more on what poison labels mean and how to choose low environmental impact poisons? Click here.

To view our range of eco-friendly pest control products, click here.

Source Article: https://www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2019-05-14-rat-poison-threat-to-citys-peri-urban-wildlife

Danger Poison Image

Poison Labels – What Do They Mean?

Pesticides are grouped according to the toxicity hazard group to which they belong, and each has different colour-coded poison labels. This has been adapted from the World Health Organisation (WHO) classification of agricultural remedies. The herbicides used in South Africa fall into three of these groups, depending on their potential to harm the user and the environment.

Poison Group Warning statements on container Colour of band* around container
Group IA Very toxic – PPE must be used. RED
Group IB Toxic – PPE must be used. RED
Group II Harmful – Use all precautions stated. YELLOW
Group III Caution – Use carefully. BLUE
Group IV No warning statements – Relatively safe. GREEN

Green Poison Labels can safely be used in the home, schools, hospitals etc and are generally less toxic than salt.

Most pesticides found in supermarkets indiscriminately affect various other non-target animals like Birds, Geckos, Lizards, Praying Mantis, Bees, fish etc. This then has a knock-on effect, called secondary poisoning, effecting animals further up the food chain such as Caracals, Cape Clawless Otter, Cape Eagle Owl, Large Spotted Genet, Honey Badger and Water Mongoose, etc. Click here to read more about wildlife under threat.

What Pesticides Does Dead Easy Use?

We are constantly on the lookout for safer, low environmental impact pest solutions and make use of Green Label pesticides wherever possible.

One of our favourite pesticides is Natural Pyrethrin (Chrysanthemum Daisy Oil) and Orange Peel Oil because it does not leave a toxic residue in spite of the fact that it kills target insects in seconds, leaving behind a lovely lingering citrus fragrance that repels pests.

An aerosol spray containing these natural ingredients is given BLUE LABEL status. It is not given Green Label status purely because of the synthetic solvent and propellant. Once sprayed the solvent quickly vaporises and there is no toxic residue left behind.

Insect specific baits are often used because it only kills the targeted pest and not beneficial insects. Most of our insect baits have Green Label status.

When long term insecticidal protection is needed to protect structures and paved areas, we make use of Blue or Yellow Label pesticides but these products are scrutinized before we decide on the product that has the least impact on non-targeted insects, reptiles and underground water.

Our products are safe for children, pets and allergic people.

It is important to remember that all pesticides are toxic and have the potential to cause damage. Store away from children, food or animals and always keep locked away.

Spotted Eagle Owl Post Image

Rat Poisons & Owls

There are unfortunately many rat poisons on the market that are not environmentally-friendly and if the dead rodents are eaten by other animals (owls, and even cats and dogs), they could die from secondary poisoning. The poisons could also be harmful to children.

Dead Easy along with BirdLife South Africa does not promote the use of poisons to eradicate rats, but rather the use of biological control methods or mechanical ways to kill these rodents.

Mechanical Control Methods

With regards to mechanical control methods, there are a number of products on the market which will kill rodents. Ordinary spring traps are one option, but not everyone likes using this method. These traps also have to be set in areas where they will not catch non-target animals (including wild birds).

An efficient product is the Rat Zapper, this device is very target specific. Rodents are enticed into a trap in which they are killed by a quick but powerful electrical shock. The Rat Zapper uses four “D” Cell batteries and can kill up to 20 rodents with one set of batteries. It is also easy to use, portable, reusable and one does not have to handle the dead rats. For more information about the product and how to order it, please see our products.

Biological Control Methods

All of the above-mentioned solutions are however temporary and do not provide long-term solutions to controlling rodents in cities. We should use biological control methods to control rodents in cities, with the most important control agent being the Barn Owl. These owls have adapted well to cities and can contribute significantly to the control of rats and mice.

Barn Owls raise up to eight chicks during one breeding event. During the nesting period of 44-55 days, four chicks require about 34 kg of food which is the equivalent of 1700 small mice and rats (thus 3400 rodents if there were eight owl chicks!). In years of food abundance, Barn Owls may even breed twice, which means that one pair of Barn Owls might catch more than 6000 rodents during that breeding season! There is surely no better way to control rodents!

The Spotted Eagle Owl is a skilled rat killer. Danelle Murray / CC BY-SA

The Spotted Eagle-Owl is also at home in our cities, and it has a more varied diet – eating rodents as well as large numbers of insects. How do you attract owls to your area? Owls, like all other birds, will be encouraged to remain in an area if they have food and security. There are clearly enough rodents in most cities to maintain many pairs of owls.

Owls, however, have to run the gauntlet in cities. Just one person using poisons irresponsibly will kill a pair of owls in a suburb. Clearly, if we want owls to persist in our cities, we need to ensure that they do not suffer the fate of poisons.

Owls can also be attracted to cities by putting up owl nest boxes, and more information on owl boxes is available at https://www.birdlife.org.za/old-navigation/owl-boxes/

Want to learn more on what poison labels mean and how to choose low environmental impact poisons? Click here.


To see the original article please click here.