Sangomas in Africa are seen as a type of Shaman, a link between dead ancestors and the living. They are also seen as traditional healers, with around 80% of the local indigenous people consulting with a sangoma before consulting a Western trained practitioner.
Traditional Medicine and Vultures
Wildlife in South Africa is an integral part the sangoma's ritual medicine. For example, in training and for sangoma graduation ceremonies, the ritual animal sacrifice of a chicken, goat or cow is meant to seal the bond between the ancestors and the sangoma.
Sangomas will give their patients Muti which is a traditional medication made of plant or animal origin (often wildlife) and imbued with powerful symbolic significance. For example lion fat is used to promote courage. When throwing bones, a hyena bone will be used to identify a thief or provide information regarding stolen items.
Vulture parts are prescribed for various ailments including headaches and are also supposed to be effective for providing clairvoyant powers, foresight and increased intelligence. By eating the brain of the vulture, the sangoma is said to receive greater powers to communicate with the dead. The foot of a vulture is believed to bring good luck in gambling.
Foreign Country Recipes
Vulture parts are consumed or ground into medicine (muti) which is either smoked, drunk, inhaled, smeared on the body, given as an enema or rubbed into an incision.
Vultures in Their Natural Habitat
The decline in vultures in their natural habitat is as a direct result of vulture harvesting by sangomas (but not exclusively so, poisoning by farmers and power lines in the path of flight are also contributing factors).
According to "Africa Birds & Birding", Oct/Nov 2007 "Local extinction could be as little as 10 or 11 years away - the vulture population cannot withstand the current environment and harvesting pressures being placed on it".
There are nine vulture species in South Africa, seven of which are threatened with extinction. The Egyptian Vulture is regionally extinct in South Africa. The Bearded Vulture is found only around the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa and Lesotho is classified as endangered - numbers continue to decline.
The Cape Vulture is extinct as a breeding species in the Northern Cape, but is occasionally seen in the Province and especially in the south-eastern Karoo and the Kimberley area. Other species inclue the Lappet-faced, Hooded, African and Whiteheaded and are listed as 'vulnerable.'
Most of the vulture's bad reputation comes from the fact that it scavenges carcasses. However, this is a very important part of the cycle of nature. The vulture assists in dismembering the carcass. By tearing at the skin and flesh, the vulture opens the carcass to other creatures which eat the flesh. These creatures, in their turn, also enter the food chain. And it must also be noted that the vultures speed up the process of decomposition of the carcass.
Extinction of vultures will be a loss to the ecology of Southern Africa, and a major conservation effort is underway to save the all species.
Africa Birds and Birding, Volume 12, October/November 2007Tourbrief - Article Cape Vulture - Thursday, 05 October 2006More articles on African wildlife:
The Ostrich - Biggest Bird in the World
The African Wild Dog