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Persecution involves the indiscriminate abuse or killing of a group of animals, generally used as a strategy to prevent property damage (e.g. crop-raiding elephants) and livestock depredation (e.g. lions endangering cattle). Some animals are also persecuted because of the real or perceived dangers they pose to humans; this includes the indiscriminate killing of sharks, snakes, and spiders to avoid bites, and culling of bats to prevent spread of zoonotic diseases (Schneeberger and Voigt, 2016). Lastly, local folklore also contributes to persecution: animals, such as moles, chameleons, and owls are sometimes indiscriminately killed because of cultural beliefs that they bring bad luck.
While killing a (potential or perceived) problem animal may bring a certain instant gratification, it is a short-term solution that often causes more harm than good.
While killing a (potential or perceived) problem animal may bring a certain instant gratification, it is a short-term solution that often causes more harm than good. Culling bats, for example, may in fact increase the prevalence of the same zoonotic diseases people are trying to control (Schneeberger and Voigt, 2016). Persecution also leads to the loss of ecosystem services, as it often targets ecosystem engineers and keystone species. Retaliatory poisoning is particularly harmful for all the other useful organisms that may be killed in the process. One study in Namibia estimated that about 100 non-target animals are killed for every target animal, putting harmless species also at risk (Brown, 2006). Among the most vulnerable to such poisoning are vultures, which may be accidentally poisoned by bait set out for problem predators, or directly targeted for traditional medicine and to hide poaching activities. In June 2019, 537 vultures (comprising five different Endangered and Critically Endangered species) were killed in Botswana after scavenging from three poisoned elephant carcass (de Greef, 2019). This mass poisoning event was particularly devastating because it was during the vulture breeding season, so many vulture chicks likely also died from starvation if not from eating tainted meat brought back to the nest by their parents.