Innovation in the cryptic world of spiritual science is defining the expansion of indigenous knowledge on vultures as raw materials for belief-based arts. The unintended consequences of such innovations as echoed by the near total disappearance of the obligate scavengers have led to concerns and uncertainty about the future of vultures in Nigeria. Man’s outstanding reputation of squandering nature’s resources to satisfy his immediate wants has remained the bane of biodiversity conservation. If man must therefore continue to get his daily subsistence from the environment; he then must keep to the tenets that guide sustainability in the use and extraction of earth’s resources including the vultures.
Recently, eggs from vultures were astonishingly uncovered as the favourite diabolical recipe used by several politicians for political conquests and electoral successes in Nigeria. This observation was an aftermath of community conservation projects implemented by the young conservation leaders in Nigeria through the support of Birdfair/BirdLife International and remarks from Dr. Edem Eniang of the University of Uyo. This discovery portends a scary dimension to the vulture conservation crisis as already being witnessed given the sweeping reawakening and desperation of gladiators on the political landscapes. The politically sponsored belief-based ransacking of vultures’ nests for eggs had before now remained a concealed influence with huge periodical significance on the population of the birds in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, premiums are now incredibly placed on the eggs and in some cases, the entire nest, every penultimate election year as ritual items for magically assembling huge crowds at political rallies and for winning elections, especially by those who believe that the oddity of political popularity and acceptability is improved by fetish mix prepared with eggs from vultures. This has led to series of politically commissioned expeditions across community landscapes for active nests of vultures.
The bounty on the eggs has ranked trafficking in vultures as the most rewarding endeavour in Nigeria. Thus, indirectly approving of a large-scale frantic search and monitoring of the increasingly scarce active nests of vultures. An egg is reported to cost between #500,000.00 and #2,000,000.00 depending on the location, adherence to spiritual guidelines for harvesting and the number of middlemen involved in the transaction. The Hooded vultures are often the victims of egglifting (a coinage invented to describe illegal pilfering of eggs from active nests of birds) in neighbourhood communities owing to their resident status and relative preponderance over other species of vultures in Nigeria. Unfortunately, these birds lay no more than one egg in several years allowing them to concentrate efforts on nurturing their young. All parts of the miserly egg-laying bird inclusive of feathers and the nests are considered imbued with spiritual energy and are sought by belief-based practitioners including the now political poachers.
Conservation practitioners have had to tread rough paths working to prevent the total annihilation of species of vultures. However, these attempts have always been assaulted by beliefs and believe. The African tradition is replete with belief-based practices untiringly moulding conservation discourse and there are those who erroneously ascribe resources as infinitely copious believing that no human generation can exhaust the provisions of nature. Thus, man remaining persistently unyielding to entreaties for circumspect in the face of a rapidly changing environment preferring rather to increase his purchasing power when in fact there is little or nothing to buy.
If the science of political conquest through spiritual inventions were to be true, what then becomes the fate of future belief-based politicians if the present population of vultures in Nigeria is driven aground? Obviously, any further exertion on vultures will only lead to their extinction as all species of the old-world vultures, except the palm-nut vultures, are already classified as threatened with the risk of extinction under the IUCN Red list of threatened species.
The unusual expansion of belief-based add-ons and the wide-spread approval of such arts despite claims of civilisation signal for caution so as not to deprive future generations of their aspirations to meet their own health, aesthetic, spiritual and even political needs. Conservation therefore strives to limit man’s greed by setting scientifically supported boundary between man’s insatiable want and the productive capacity of the environment.
In recent past, conservation efforts have had to address challenges that are multilayered and each layer unfolding with every step made towards the conservation goals. Wildlife trafficking is time and again fueled by traditional innovations and the notion of substance, in plants and animals, traditionally held as capable of servicing the health, aesthetic and spiritual needs of man. Egglifting being another major phenomenon of illegal wildlife trafficking is apparently dangerous with far-reaching consequences on the future of vulture conservation in Nigeria.
Awareness creation efforts in the country is commendable, even though it is still at its lowest ebbs as many who aid and abet trafficking in specimens of vultures are largely unaware of any law that proscribes their indulgence. The secrecy and restrain sometimes shown by many in areas outside protected areas is due to the public suspicion and scrutiny that may attend such a rather strange transaction rather than on any known environmental regulation.
For emphasis, all semblance of trade in species of vultures is illegal and outlawed by the Endangered Species Act (as amended) which offered some level of protection to all species of vultures under schedule II of the act with a fixed penalty of N1,000,000.00 for first-time offenders and a compulsory 12 months jail term for subsequent offenders. Successive amendment of the act should however contemplate offering vultures the maximum level of protection possible under schedule I.
In conclusion, any endeavor and or intent capable of bringing harm to vultures and or inhibit the feeding, roosting, nesting, flying and any such survival maneuvering of vultures is inimical to the future of vultures and global conservation efforts as sustained by BirdLife International, the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation and other spirited nature enthusiasts in Nigeria. Therefore, appeals are made to those whose constitution of office forbid abuse of power, either in public or private; never to subsidize crime particularly environment-related crimes.
By Stephen Aina (Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Lagos; firstname.lastname@example.org)