Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Want Some Luck? Smoke Vulture Brains!

Rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapors, vulture brains can help at the horse races or lure more clients to a business according to vendors of traditional medicines in South Africa. Photograph: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images

Using animal parts to relieve pain, enhance sexual performance, and confer mystical powers upon the part of the consumer has driven some species to the edge of extinction. Now, vultures in Africa can be added to that list.

On the surface, it would appear that there is nothing a vulture possesses that anyone in their right mind would want; but, that’s where we go wrong. Vulture brains are in great demand in Africa; specifically dried and rolled into cigarettes.

There is a traditional belief that the vultures’ adeptness in finding prey with their keen vision is actually due to a mystical ability by the bird to see into the future. Believers feel that by smoking their brains or inhaling the smoke from a burning vulture brain will give them the same ability. This ability to determine future events and outcomes will be used for gambling purposes.

Gambling is a popular pastime in Africa and this is only increasing with the upcoming 2010 World Cup being held in South Africa. Environmentalists fear that this old superstition may be the demise of some vulture species in Africa. Already, seven of the nine African species of vulture are classed as endangered. While the vultures are usually shot, trapped or poisoned; the poisoning has escalated to the point of poisoning other animals, so that when the vulture feeds on them they die also. This is easy money for the vulture hunters as there can be as many as 300 – 400 birds feeding on any one carcass.

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

Steve McKean, of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife:

Traditional use as it is currently happening is likely to render vultures extinct in southern Africa on its own within 20 to 30 years.

Andre Botha, from the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa:

People believe it's foresight and this finds fertile ground in people's imagination. If it worked for the lottery, everyone would use it and we'd have a lot of millionaires walking around today. There is a lot of betting in South Africa. So we may see an increase connected to gambling around the 2010 World Cup.

A 2007 study found that 160 vultures a year are sold for muti in eastern South Africa but the total across the region is much, much higher. About 1,000 are killed every year in Tanzania alone.

Brains and other body parts are then sold at street markets or shops in Johannesburg and other cities.

There is a demand for the bearded vulture in Eastern Cape province. Traditional healers prefer that the bird be captured alive as the head needs to be removed while it is still living so that "the brain does not flow down into the spinal cord" and the muti loses its potency.

Via TreeHugger and guardian.

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