Clarissa Hughes

Vulture Culture

Integrating the vulture’s power will serve humans well

There is alarm at the numbers of vultures being poisoned in southern Africa.

 Vultures, scroungers in the natural world, are often disdained. Yet they not only perform an essential service, they have a talent, a really powerful one.

 Vultures have exceptional eyesight. Soaring high into the heavens they can see a meal several kilometres away.

 This far-sightedness was so valued by ancient Egyptians that vultures were a symbol of royalty. Just as vultures have good eyesight so did pharoahs require the same mental ability to lead.

 Foresight, prescience, sagacity. Vulture attributes are as needed today in an unpredictable world.

 With this reputation it’s not surprising to learn that there is a demand for vulture parts in the muti trade. People who wish to acquire the vulture’s predictive ability buy fetishes in the hope that it will rub off on them, so that they can foretell the lotto numbers, or the winners of a football match.

Where this is a problem, engagement rather than confrontation, is surely the answer. It might be worth suggesting that it’s time for an adaptation to the custom. As we know Christians have the Eucharist wherein a substitute is imbibed.

 Nevertheless one of the chief reasons behind vulture poisoning is unintentional. A recent report by Durham University indicates that vultures are susceptible to anti-inflammatory drugs administered to cattle. The drugs are deadly to vultures when they feed on a carcass.

 Another cause is the lacing of carcasses with poison to lure and kill predators in livestock areas. Vultures are the unintended victims.

 Interestingly the report shows that vultures prefer to avoid areas that are predator-rich due to competition at feeding sites.

 So armed with this knowledge perhaps it is time that people behave in a manner befitting the far-sightedness of the vulture.

 Drug companies can come up with a vulture-friendly anti-inflammatory. Livestock owners can take better care of their animals and corral them at night to protect them from predators. And sangomas, who are excellent natural historians, can find a substitute for vulture fetishes.

 After all, as a keystone species, the collapse of vultures means the collapse of the ecosystem – the ecosystem that we all depend on.

Modern democracy means that we’re all pharoahs and we would do well to look to the future with the foresight, prescience and sagacity of the vulture.

Reference: Durham University (2013, January 30). Vultures foraging far and wide face a poisonous future.



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