Conservationists are both angry and saddened by the killing of vultures for warped traditional benefits. While studies indicate that the practice has been happening in other southern African countries for years, Botswana officially discovered it early this month. A report by Birdlife Botswana (BLB), a non-governmental organization committed to conservation of birds’ species and their habitats in the country, indicates that 50 White-backed vultures were found dead near a buffalo carcass in the Western boundary of the Chobe National Park.
Except for the missing rear leg of its carcass, some bones and a tip of its tail had been cut off. The report states: “For the first time in Botswana, we have an incident where vultures had missing body parts that were clearly cut off. Observations from the scene show heads, feet and internal organs removed from these vultures with a sharp object suspected to be a knife. It is suspected that body parts were opportunistically extracted by the public because the incident occurred less than 20 meters away from a regularly used track. It is not clear whether body parts were cut off by locals or cross boarder poachers.” The statement further highlights that some studies done in other countries in southern Africa to establish body parts used by traditional practitioners for healing human ailments indicate a strong preference for vulture head, brain, claw, beak, bones and feathers.
“The use of vulture parts by traditional healers has exacerbated the demise of vulture populations in the region at large. It is disheartening to observe that over the past decade reports of vultures perishing due to poisoning have been registered annually in Botswana except during the Covid 19 pandemic years.”
A standoffish traditional healer in Tonota region, who did not want to be mentioned told Sunday Standard that he knows of no healing done through vulture parts. He has however heard of some traditional healers who use them for dipheko (charms). “I heard that practitioners from Mozambique, South Africa and far mix vultures’ eyes and brain with some charm so that their clients win in casinos or any gambling game….”
“Vultures have long eye sight, so their eyeballs, mixed with powerful charm can make clients identify from far. A study by some South African researchers confirms that vultures are used in the traditional medicine industry for a range of purposes but are believed to be most effective for providing clairvoyant powers, foresight and increased intelligence. “The main drivers of demand for these uses are betting and gambling, for improved business success, and intelligence in school children. Vulture is also prescribed by traditional healers for various ailments, including headaches. It is estimated that 160 vultures are sold per annum in eastern South Africa, with some 59,000 consumption events of vulture pieces. The total annual value of sales of vultures to end consumers in eastern South Africa (excluding the costs of vultures as input costs) is estimated at R1,2 million ($US 120k),” states the study.
An estimated 1,250 vulture traders, hunters and traditional healers in eastern South Africa the study states, are involved in the vulture trade.
“With small vulture populations and poor breeding success, the current trade in
vultures is not sustainable at the present harvest levels. The implication for people using
or trading in vultures is that the benefits currently enjoyed will not be available in 15 to
30 years’ time.” Furthermore, the study underpins, there is irrefutable evidence that vultures are being killed and traded through the traditional medicine markets. There are repeated media reports that the “Lotto” is contributing to population declines through stimulating demand for vultures, which are traditionally believed to have clairvoyant powers. All vulture species appear to be used, particularly as capture methods such
as poisoning do not discriminate between species and all vulture species are in high demand.
BLB executive director, Motshereganyi Kootsositse said so far at least 2000 vultures have been killed over the past decade. “It is not just the number 2000, remember that for one vulture death, pairs are lost. And chicks dependent upon that vulture would also not survive. He added that public education on vulture conservation has been done for a while but seems not enough. For environment conservation of vultures, which exclusively eat animal carcasses, are particularly effective at removing pathogens and toxins in the environment because they rapidly consume carrion before it decays. Their stomachs contain an incredibly potent acid that destroys many of the harmful substances found in dead animals. Their existence therefore ensures lack of or reduction of some carnivore diseases like rabies and anthrax.