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Oct 30, 2015 03:01 AM EDT

Africa's vultures on the brink of extinction

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Africa's vultures are facing a growing risk of extinction, attributed to the widespread poisoning and to hunting by poachers, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Fox News reports.

"As well as robbing the African skies of one of their most iconic and spectacular groups of birds, the rapid decline of the continent's vultures has profound consequences for its people - as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses," Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International's Africa Programme Director, said in a statement. 

"However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organizations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers," he added.

Six of the 11 species of vultures found in Africa are listed as critically endangered.

The vultures of Africa join 24 species of birds in total being classified as having a higher risk of extinction, according to the latest assessment of birds for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, compiled by BirdLife International.

Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, pointed out that vultures play an important role in the African ecosystem. They help clean up carcarasses and prevent the spread of disease.

"Their decline can have serious knock-on effects on other species and the many benefits provided by nature," Stuart said, in a statement. "While it is encouraging to see some positive outcomes of conservation action, this update is an important wake-up call, showing that urgent efforts need to be taken to protect these species."

The vultures faced similar troubles in Asia, which witnessed the demise of tens of millions of vultures as a result of eating cattle and buffalo carcasses containing the painkiller diclofenac.

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