We hear a lot about the plight of elephants and rhinos in Africa, and so we should. It is as important to talk about the fight that other endangered species face daily. This is the story of South Africa’s vultures. There are 9 species in South Africa, 8 regularly occur and breed in the country. Of these, 7 are endangered or vulnerable, and are listed in the Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Barnes, 2000). This is not to say that they are being forgotten! Valiant efforts are underway to protect them, but as with all conservation efforts it is an uphill battle influenced by tradition, superstition and greed.
From an ecological point of view a healthy vulture population in any wildlife region is imperative. They are nature’s waste removal system. By eating carrion they are controlling disease and vermin. Without them carcasses would litter the landscape.
Dr Chris Magin from RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) in the United Kingdom says that one in six birds of prey are facing extinction and that vultures are almost non existent in parts of West Africa and other parts of the world.
Promoting awareness and educating the public is a key component in conservation initiatives. This is why the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Program (EST-BoPP) and its partners in conservation promote an International Vulture Awareness day. It is observed annually on the first Saturday in September. This year it will be held at the VulPro’s rehabilitation Center near Hartebeespoort Dam in South Africa, on September 1st. It will focus on the conservation efforts underway to save the vulture around the world.
For more information on this year’s Events please contact Birdlife SA.
- Cape Griffon Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) – threatened – only 380 breading pairs left in South Africa
- African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) – threatened
- Bearded Vulture (Gypaetes barbatus) – threatened
- Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) – threatened
- Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) – threatened
- Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) – threatened
- White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) – threatened
- White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
- Palmnut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)
Vultures are nature’s waste managers and should be celebrated but too often they are persecuted instead.
- Poisoning by poachers
- Electrocution – collision with power lines
- Drowning in farm reservoirs especially in drier areas of the country
- Safe food shortage
- Loss of habitat
- Horrors of all horrors!! Smoking vulture brains! It is a custom promoted by traditional healers in Africa who believe that when vulture brains are dried, ground up and smoked in cigarettes they give the smoker luck and vision into the future. It has become popular with gamblers, anyone taking a test, or business owners who are looking to draw more customers. A small vial of the dried brains can sell for as much as $6.50. It is estimated that up to 300 vulture heads are collected annually for muti (medicine). If this number continues it will certainly throw the vulture populations into extinction within the next decade according to Mark Anderson, executive director of BirdLife South Africa. Equally chilling is that these birds are first poisoned with Aldicarb which is also lethal to humans.
- Vulture parts are also inhaled, drunk, smeared on the body or into an incision or even given as an enema. A Vulture foot is considered lucky in gambling. If a traditional healer eats Vulture brains he believes he will have greater opportunities to talk with the ancestors. A Sangoma or traditional healer is a type of Shaman considered to be the link between the living and the dead (ancestors).
Once again traditional beliefs override common sense and threaten an already sensitive population of wildlife.
To find out how you can help contact International Vulture Awareness
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Author: Principle writer – Celeste Wilson
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