Huge muthi trade could soon wipe out Zululand’s vultures

2013-10-22 00:00

IF current trends continue, Zululand stands to lose its vulture population.

This is the message from André Botha, manager of the Birds of Prey Programme and programme manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, after he had found seven carcasses of poisoned vultures in the Phongolo and Mkuze nature reserves in the north of KwaZulu-Natal.

Botha and his colleagues visited vulture nests in the reserves to ring young birds with numbered tags.

Where there had been 24 nests in one area just a couple of years ago, they found only a handful of nests of three types of vultures. On three nests they found vulture carcasses of birds that had probably ingested poison.

Four more carcasses were found on the ground.

“It is only a matter of time before the birds disappear,” said Botha.

He added he knew of two men who were caught putting out poison and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, but said many more than just two people were involved.

The Bird of Prey website estimated 130 000 traders, hunters and traditional healers are operating in South Africa, of which 1 251 benefit financially from vulture trade. The total annual value of sales of vultures to end consumers in the eastern parts of South Africa is estimated at R1,1 million.

The Bird of Prey website states that people poison vultures because their heads and claws fetch good money in the muthi trade.

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.

Botha said vulture poaching posed as big a problem for South Africa as did rhino and elephant poaching.

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