Traditional Medicine myths may wipe out vultures

With vulture populations plummeting globally in the last 50 years a traditional doctor in Botswana has encouraged fellow traditional healers to participate in protection of endangered birds to save them from extinction.

Representative of Botswana’s Dingaka Association Motsholathebe Rabakoko, has encouraged traditional healers on sustainable management and use of vulture productions for medicinal use.

Speaking to The Okavango Express Rabakoko whose association represents traditional healers across the country confirmed that vulture products are commonly used by traditional healers for medicinal use. He explained: ‘’All the organs of a vulture are important for traditional medicinal use. They are commonly used by ‘traditional healers to blend with herbs to make luck giving concoctions.’’

Last year 50 white-backed vultures were discovered dead at CH1 – near western boundary with Chobe National Park after feeding on a poached buffalo carcass which was laced with poison. 

Poachers harvested heads, feet and internal organs from 10 vultures in what investigators suspected was for resale or use for traditional medicinal use. 

It was suspected that the buffalo was illegally killed before the culprits poisoned the carcass knowing vultures will feed and get.

The traditional healer said: ‘’ we know there is a demand for vulture products for medicinal use. As the association we are doing our level best to undertake public education of all our members not use parts of endangered or protected animals in the traditional medicine practice. We have had engagements as association with Department of Wildlife and National Parks on the same subject. We want to send a warning to all traditional healers and the public that harvesting of endangered animals is illegal and a crime whether you are a traditional doctor or a patient using it you are committing a crime punishable by laws of Botswana.’’  

Rabakoko further reiterated that the protection of endangered birds like vultures and other forestry resources was introduced for a reason opining that their protection could not be used as an excuse to harvest them illegally.

‘’The reason why Government has protected vultures is because their numbers are going down due to poisoning related to poaching activities. As traditional doctors we need to be aware that when all the vulture go extinct this will pose a threat to the practice of traditional healing because we need some of their parts.’’

Rabakoko pleaded with traditional healers to seek sustainable ways of using vulture products suggesting that they should seek permits. ‘’ from my experience all parts of a vulture have a medicinal use. We usually use the parts for concoctions that give luck most of people who need the fix are business people.   Why can’t our healers liaise with DWNP to ask for feathers of naturally dead vultures in the parks for example?

 According to Birdlife Botswana Director Motshereganyi Virat the case of 50 dead vultures was the first time they received a report where parts of a dead vulture were taken out.

Kootsositse said vultures are threatened species and their numbers are very low in Botswana and southern Africa. According to Kootsositse is compounded by the fact that vulture reproduction rate is low and anything that negatively affects breeding success threatens their population growth.

On the need for public education targeting traditional doctors,Kootsositse reiterated: ‘’although we don’t haven’t done any work that target traditional doctors but   we do public campaigns every year and address meetings and conference where we get an opportunity to talk about the need to enhance vulture conservation in Botswana.’’

Besides threats to vulture population Kootsositse generally birds population in Botswana is stable in exception of vultures and quelea birds.  ‘’However, we do have endangered species in Botswana top of the list being vultures which face a bleak future if nothing is done to change and make efforts to reduce the dangers they face.’’

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