Enquire from a traditional healer in Africa how to boost your luck, and they may offer you a prescription to smoke or snort dried vulture brains. Did I hear you say Yuck!
African vultures are not coping well. A contemporary study, published in the journal Oryx, suggests the trade of vulture cadavers (corpses) and their body parts in West and Central Africa, compelled mostly by misconception, is pushing the birds near extinction. This decline belongs to species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers endangered, vulnerable or near threatened such as the Hooded Vulture – Necrosyrtes monachus, Egyptian Vulture – Neophron percnopterus, White-backed – Gyps africanus, White-headed – Trigonoceps occipitalis, Ruppell’s Griffon –Gyps rueppellii and others. It is an unmatched decline of an entire functional group.
A team of researchers once counted 2,646 carcasses from hundreds of market stands throughout West and Central Africa over a period of 5 years. This indicates why there is a serious decline of these birds in West and Central Africa. This economy is also part of regional trade because vultures are brought into Nigeria from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic, and from several other countries.
Since vultures appear almost immediately after the death of an animal, many Africans believe the birds are intuitive and that by ingesting a bird’s brain, eyes, or tongue people can assume those abilities according to widespread tradition. Others believe scattering minced body parts around the house or burying vulture heads beneath entrances drives away evil spirits. The superstitions emerge from many social circles, from gamblers to schoolchildren trying to predict exam questions. Due to these misconceptions about vultures and the high demand in the tradomedical market, poachers have a strong incentive to hunt for vultures.
As part of creating awareness about vultures to debunk these myths and the need to conserve vultures, LUFASI in partnership with Rufford Foundation joined the rest of the world to commemorate this year’s International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD), 2018. On the 6th of September, there was a community awareness outreach to sensitize the people of Majek, Abijo and other neighbouring communities on the important roles of vultures, debunk the many misconceptions surrounding vultures and the need to protect them for a sustainable environment. On the 8th of September, there was a panel discussion, which had Dr. Joseph Onoja – Director, Technical Programmes, Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) and Mr. S. Emela, Lagos state Ministry of Environment, Alausa as panelists. The session focused on the need to create awareness on the challenges that vultures face in Nigeria and what can be done to address these challenges. According to the panelists, vultures are scavenger’s birds that feed on carcasses, which in turn prevents the outbreak and spread of diseases. They are called the “biological controllers of the environment” as they rid our environment of carrion thereby improving the health of the environment and humanity in general. Dr Onoja shocked the audience when he said that a single “vulture carries out an essential ecosystem service worth about $11,200.00 in a life time.” In this wise, there is no doubt to ensure the conservation of vultures.
It is important to note that the responsibility of conserving vultures lies on every one of us and one of the ways we can achieve this is to support conservation efforts like what LUFASI is doing. Humans need to realise that we are not in isolation in the world. We exist side by side with other organisms. By conserving vultures, we are actually conserving ourselves.
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