Vultures being killed for muti

03 September 2013 - 02:12 By SCHALK MOUTON
A vulture in the Kruger Park.
A vulture in the Kruger Park.
Image: Bruce Gorton

Gambling has been linked to the increase in vulture poaching as traditional healers believe vulture heads can make you see into the future.

Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, director of the Griffon Poison Information Centre, said yesterday that the number of vultures poisoned for muti has increased dramatically.

He said in the "olden days" a "traditional healer had to kill the animal himself for it to have the necessary powers but, now that it has become commercialised, all the principles have fallen by the wayside" .

Traditional healers believe that sleeping with a vulture's head gives a person clairvoyant powers and the ability to predict sports scores, Lotto numbers and the like.

Verdoorn said the birds are sold for about R600 each.

Last week, two poachers were convicted for poaching two white-backed vultures and a tawny eagle near the iSimangaliso Mkuze Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal in January.

The two men, Sabelo Mbazini, 25, and unemployed Philani Gumede, 20, were arrested after game rangers received a tip-off that the birds' carcasses were to be sold at a nearby school.

"[The rangers] received a description of the poachers and waited for them at the school.

"When the rangers approached, three men carrying bags fled," said the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

"The carcasses of the three birds were found in the bags. Two men were arrested and one escaped."

The men were sentenced to two years in prison without the option of a fine when they appeared in the Ubombo Magistrate's Court last week.

In a separate incident, 48 Cape Griffon vultures and one African white-backed vulture were found poisoned close to the Swartberg in KwaZulu-Natal in mid- June.

Verdoorn said the poaching of vultures was as serious a crime as the poaching of rhinos.

"While the global population of white rhinos is estimated to be more than 20000 individuals, Cape Griffon vultures number far less than 10000 individuals," said Verdoorn.

"Vultures are exceptionally vulnerable to poisoned baits, especially full carcasses. Countless incidents have been recorded in Southern Africa over the past 50 years where vultures were killed by the misuse of agrochemicals."

In July, up to 600 vultures died after elephant poachers in Namibia poisoned a carcass to prevent the vultures that usually circle above a dead animal from giving away their position.

An Endangered Wildlife Trust study found that 160 vultures are traded every year, and should the current trends continue, the Cape Griffon populations in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho could become locally extinct within 44 to 53 years.