Of all the threats to the sustainability of the environment, the last place one would genuinely look will be to the scavenger-bird known as the vulture. There has been a noticeable decline in their numbers in Nigeria and this has been attributed not only to global changes in nature and climate but also to human interactions with the bird due to belief-based uses. In fact, of all the species of African-Eurasian vulture species currently threatened, about 15 of them will require the implementation of special, multifaceted conservation approaches.
One might begin to wonder what tangible contributions these scavengers make to the health and economy of the average Nigerian who believes that the vultures are only useful for feeding on carcasses. What isn’t immediately obvious is the fact that by consuming carcasses and waste, these birds help keep our environments clean by restricting the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism. They are only able to do this because they have specially adapted immune systems that degrade carcasses without any negative effect to them. With the decline in vultures, other scavengers that are not properly adapted to this role will flourish which will ultimately lead to a rise in bacteria and viruses in human cities.
The greatest threat to vulture population is the human species. From electrocution due to power lines passing through their breeding sites to declining food availability and even direct persecution through deliberate poisoning, these birds are in a dire situation. While many people hold the erroneous belief that vultures are evil and must be exterminated at all costs, these obligate scavengers can add great value to eco-tourism in Nigeria through bird watching.
Another group that has greatly contributes to the decline in vulture numbers are the belief-based practitioners and spiritualists who use the bird for charms aimed at attaining great wealth popularly called “Awure”. A survey conducted by the Nigerian Conservation Fund revealed that there are wildlife markets in Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Kano, Ibadan and Ikare that cater to such needs. While a whole bird goes for N20000 to N30000, the head alone goes for between N12000-N15000 as the most important ingredient in the traditional concoction compared to every other part.
Over the years, The Nigerian Conservation Fund has conducted extensive research and hosted workshops to educate stakeholders, including traditional belief practitioners, on the array of ecological, economic and cultural influences of the vulture as well as raising awareness to the illegal wildlife trade in Nigeria.
The popular saying “A wealthy nation is a healthy nation” comes to mind here. If an economy is built on the trade of a commodity and its allied items without a proper consideration to the environment, it will create a ripple effect that will ultimately impact the economy negatively. Let us stay alert to the happenings in our environment and save the vultures from vanishing.
Save the Vultures, Save Our Environment!