6 Million Red-Billed Quelea Birds Feasting on Rice Fields Prompt for Pesticides in Kenya Farms

Experts are concerned that as farmers in Kenya attempt to drive back the horde of 6 million red-billed quelea birds that ravaged their rice fields, they may pesticide-bomb endangered raptors.

Experts have cautioned that the Kenyan government’s effort to exterminate the red-billed quelea birds that have infested farms will have unintended negative consequences for other raptors and wild species.

Due to the drought that has been going on in the Horn of Africa, queleas’ primary food source-native grass seeds-has decreased. As a result, the birds are increasingly invading grain fields, endangering 2,000 acres of rice. Recently, the birds have destroyed roughly 300 acres of rice fields.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that a single quelea can consume up to 10 grams of grain per day. Nearly 60 tonnes of grain could be lost to birds by farmers in western Kenya. The Food and Agricultural Organization calculated crop losses caused by birds in 2021 would total $50 million per year.

Fenthion Pesticide and Poison-Related Deaths for Wildlife

The preferred method for eradicating pests in Africa has been to spray fenthion, which is an organophosphate pesticide, but scientists have noted that the substance is toxic to people and other non-target organisms.

The researchers concluded that Fenthion can harm or kill people or animals without cause, having negative effects on organisms that are not its intended targets.

The widespread use of avicides on non-target species can cause environmental contamination and the mass extinction of other birds and animals, according to Paul Gacheru, the Nature Kenya species and sites manager, so the method used to control quelea should be carefully considered.

He said that enhancing education and awareness about quelea control is necessary because often poor post-spraying site management increases the risk of wildlife deaths relating to poisoning, especially among scavenging animals.

1.5 Billion Breeding Population

Ornithologists estimate that there are 1.5 billion breeding birds in Africa, but neither enough raptors nor environmentally friendly solutions are available to eradicate vast quelea colonies.

Simon Thomsett, a Kenya Bird of Prey Trust director, said Due to what is now thought to be a probability, owing to climate change, the culture of prioritizing ensuring human food security over all else would be amplified. For example, open grasslands that were once quelea feeding grounds were quickly turned into farmlands.

Thomsett continued that farmers in Kenyan regions where they grow wheat have sprayed any bird species they deemed to be a threat to their farms, although some of the birds are there to eat insects that eat the wheat.

Endangered Raptors and Spraying for the Past 70 Years

He is most concerned about the pesticide’s potential impact on the few raptors that are still around. The spraying has greatly alarmed those who are on the side of raptor conservation. Every raptor species in Kenya are now considered endangered.

Thomsett questioned the efficacy of spraying over the previous 60 to 70 years.

The Rotterdam Convention, whose objectives include lowering risks from hazardous chemicals in agriculture, is jointly administered by the FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme. Fenthion has been considered for inclusion in Annex III of the treaty, a list of industrial chemicals and pesticides that are prohibited or severely restricted due to their adverse effects on the environment or human health.

Also Read: Wildlife Rehabs Warn of Worsening Conditions for Botched Unprofessional DIY Animal Rescue Attempts 

Using Alternatives

Alternatives to the use of the chemical, such as a forecast and control planning method, were suggested in a report written by Robert A. Cheke from the University of Greenwich and used as a working document in Sudan’s 2017 FAO workshop.

The amount of fenthion used could be decreased, the report claims, if control operations’ efficiency could be increased. Finding suitable quelea breeding areas using satellite imagery or predicting where the birds will breed are two ways to increase the effectiveness of control strategies.

According to the report published in the journal Crop Protection, rainfall patterns influence the birds’ migrations and breeding opportunities, so forecasting systems can be created to determine where the birds are most likely to breed. As a result, efforts to find colonies can be concentrated in those areas.

Many African nations frequently experience Quelea invasions. Following the invasion of 21 million quelea in rice, sorghum, millet, and wheat fields six months prior, the FAO released $500,000 in funds to the government of Tanzania to sustain pesticide spraying, surveillance, and capacity-building, The Guardian reports.

Related Article: NYC Pest Control Project for Invasive Species Kills Woodpecker Instead 

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