Traditional beliefs about the clairvoyant powers of vultures could spell trouble for the birds as gamblers look for a sure bet during the World Cup.
According to muti tradition, eating the brains of a vulture or wearing a newly decapitated vulture head can grant one the ability to see into the future and predict the results of a soccer match.
The South African vulture population has plunged to an alarmingly low level and conservationists have blamed gamblers and lotto players for the recent decline in numbers.
Andre Botha, of the South African Endangered Wildlife Trust, said it was difficult to spot trends because of the illegal nature of the trade, but “considering the wide use of vultures and the reasons why people do so, it’s highly likely there will be an increase in poaching surrounding the World Cup”.
The vulture population in South Africa stands at more than 2 000, but about 150 a year are slaughtered.
At this rate vultures would soon be annihilated in South Africa, Botha warned.
“In 15 to 20 years vultures could become extinct in KwaZulu-Natal and in 35 years they could be gone completely if the same trend manifests in the rest of the country.”
Botha said large numbers of vultures were also brought from Mozambique and Lesotho to South Africa to be sold. Poachers did not discriminate, and every species of vulture was at risk.
The birds are typically killed with shotguns or by trapping and poisoning. Many die by feeding on carcasses laced with poison.
The toxin of choice is often an insecticide called aldicarb which is sold on the street as “two step” and can be fatal to humans. When these toxins are transferred to vultures, this poses a threat to anyone eats them for muti.
A member of the South African Traditional Healers Association, Sylvia Mngxekeza, said legitimate healers were not at fault.
“We use only plants. As traditional healers we are not allowed to kill,” Mngxekeza said.
“What those people who use snakes and vultures are doing is witchcraft.”
The Endangered Wildlife Trust has implemented a plan to stop poaching. It includes lobbying for heavier penalties and an awareness campaign targeting poachers, hunters and traditional healers.