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In West Africa, illegal trade in vultures’ body parts for belief based use spells doom for these endangered birds. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), BirdLife Partner is working with local traditional healers to create awareness on plant-based alternatives, as substitutes to vultures’ body parts.

By Joseph Onoja, Director, Technical Programmes

Vulture populations on the African continent have plummeted catastrophically over the last 50 years, with some species declining by as much as 97%. Seven of the eleven African vulture species are at risk of extinction.

In West Africa there is high demand for vulture parts, majorly driven by belief-based use. In some communities, vulture heads are erroneously thought to contain mystic powers and are used in making traditional charms and medicine. In Nigeria, vultures are also sold in markets as food and protein supplements. Vulture eggs are also highly sought for moneymaking rituals and are believed to cure madness and various ailments.

© EV New Life project

In response to the increasing demand for vulture parts and subsequent decline of these endangered birds in Nigeria, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF, BirdLife partner) has been engaging traditional healers with the aim of raising awareness about plant-based alternatives to vulture parts. Beginning October 2019, these meetings have been held in northern states of Sokoto Kano and Yobe, and southern state of Ogun.

More than 80 traditional healers have taken part in these events. In Sokoto and Kano states, the workshops were facilitated by Dr. Usman Abubakar, a member of the National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners, while Chief Soyoye, President of the Traditional Healers Association and Director of the African College of Traditional Medicine, facilitated the proceedings in Ogun state.

The goal of these workshops is development of a manual to guide progressive, wildlife-friendly traditional medicine practices such as the use of plant-based medicine alternatives. The manual will be published in local languages to make it as accessible as possible

traditional healers attending to the NCF workshop © NCF

Plant-based alternatives used in the treatment of ailments have been documented in southern and northern Nigeria, with many traditional healers using them instead of vulture parts, which are expensive and difficult to source. As part of the project, these traditional healers have been advocating for the wider use of plant-based alternatives, and have vouched their efficacy particularly in the treatment of eye and skin diseases in addition to epilepsy.

According to NCF, traditional healers are now openly using plant-based alternatives, and are encouraging more healers to do the same. NCF has formed a social media group for traditional healers to act as a platform for sharing experiences of using plant-based alternatives and promoting their use.

“Wildlife animals and plants are the basis on which human lives depends in terms of food, oxygen, shelter, and medicine: hence, there must be good management of these natural resources for posterity”, emphasized Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, the NCF Director General.

Furthermore, the African Traditional Medicine College has carried out tests on the plant-based alternatives. Through this win-win approach, NCF believes that the decline of vulture populations will be addressed, thus safeguarding these important but threatened birds.

Head of a White-backed Vulture offered for sale at a market in Nigeria © J. Onoja

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