Vulture Feet at a Muthi Market

Traditional Medicine

Vultures’ extremely well developed eyesight allows them to spot a carcass from 4km away when soaring high in the sky looking for their next meal, which enables large groups of birds to simultaneously arrive at a meal site soon after it becomes available. This ability has led to the cultural misconception that vultures have psychic powers, or can ‘see into the future’, causing the birds to be persecuted for their body parts, due to the belief that by possessing part of a vulture, one can share in the bird’s supernatural abilities.

The use of vulture body parts is believed to be most effective for enabling psychic abilities, foresight and increased intelligence. Other reported uses of vultures includes use of  their bones during circumcision ceremonies, their talons to treat fever, their feathers for decoration, and their beak for protection. The vultures are killed using shotguns, poisoning or traps, although poisoning is by far the most common method, as many birds can be killed at one time.

An estimated 160 vultures are sold per annum in the eastern provinces of South Africa  alone, and there are some 59,000 consumption events of vulture pieces annually in this region. 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 R1,185,600.

An intervention strategy has be developed and implemented that addresses the following primary areas of action:
• Reducing consumption and demand for vultures through an awareness-building campaign targeting public consumers and current role-players in the trade.
• Changing and/or creating policy to improve regulation of the vulture trade.
• Improving policing and enforcement for better regulation of the vulture trade.
• Improving understanding of the vulture trade to allow more focused interventions, including research and monitoring of the use and trade of vultures.

Check out the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s information on the use of vultures in traditional medicine here: in English or in Sesotho

Muthi shop Lesotho
Raptor displayed outside a Muthi shop in Lesotho

Maloti-Drakensberg Vulture Project