Vultures are declining at an alarming rate and heading towards extinction across Africa with six out of eleven vulture species being at a higher risk of extinction now, according to BirdLife International. The leading cause of their vulnerable status is Illegal human activities, such as the illicit trade of their body parts. As the vulture population gets more and more threatened, the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) took matters into their own hands and decided to fight this head-on with their new project.
The threat in Nigeria
Today, multiple threats have adverse effects on vultures, and these are mainly due to human-induced activities. Vultures are in danger of being poisoned, electrocuted, persecuted as well as experiencing habitat loss and declining food availability. In Africa, there is an additional threat – the illegal trade of their body parts. And in Nigeria, research shows that the illicit vulture trade is most prevalent there. Vultures are captured and killed, and belief-based practitioners use their body parts for practices such as traditional medicine.
The NCF surveyed wildlife markets in 2017 and discovered that Kano, Ibadan and Ikare are the hubs of vulture sales. These are the central locations wildlife and herb sellers visit to get vultures, alive or dead, for their customers and users. Belief-based practitioners and other spiritualists use vulture body parts for the 'Awure' fortune charm. The survey also discovered that a vulture head could sell for up to N15,000 where the whole body could cost as high as N30, 000 (around €75).
Watch NCF's documentary that raises awareness about vulture conservation
The project brings hope
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) in partnership with BirdLife Africa, developed a project that will deal with this head-on. On the 8th of May 2019, conservationists, officials and community members united to launch the new project dedicated to tackling this threat. The project called "Combatting the West African illegal trade in threatened vultures and their parts for belief-based use" aims to raise awareness among traditional medicine practitioners to promote herbal alternatives to vulture body parts, as well collaborate with security agencies on law enforcement. It will run for two years and is funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
During the launch event, the Director-General of NCF, Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano, passionately spoke about the significance of vultures stating "vultures are very important: they are our unpaid sanitary inspectors. Some people call them garbage collectors, but they are beyond just collectors: they actually clean up the environment and prevent us from catching deadly diseases. They prevent the proliferation of pests that would otherwise feed on the carcasses. If vultures go extinct then we are in trouble."
Another vital part of the event was the speech of Dr Beckie Garbett, the Vulture Conservation Manager for Birdlife International Africa. She announced their ambitious goal to reduce illegal wildlife trade in Nigeria by 20% until 2021. She also emphasised the severity of wildlife crime, stating that it is the highest criminal revenue generator after the illegal drug trade.
The varied support the project received is another promising sign. It was attended by a series of celebrities that will act as Vulture Ambassadors by raising awareness and changing public opinion. These include, among others, famous musician Tito Da Fire and on-air personality Seyi Asurf. Representatives from various institutions also attended the event, from the Nigeria Police Force to traditional medicine practitioners and the National Association of Hunters. The broad support indicates that the increasing interest from various stakeholders to protect Nigeria's vultures can have a real impact to effectively tackle the issues.