By Elizabeth Uwandu
Conservation experts have raised the alarm that if the illegal trade in vultures and their use for medicines, charms of other belief systems persist, Africa and indeed Nigeria will be at a high risk of exposure to outbreak of epidemics and loss of revenue.
This was made known at a workshop themed, “Combating the West African illegal trade in threatened vultures and their parts for belief-based used”, organized by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation NCF, in collaboration with Birdlife International.
Participants at the one-day event that held at the Lekki Conservation Centre, Lagos and sponsored by United States Fish and Wildlife Service funded 2-year project, include stakeholders such as Customs representatives, Police, State and Federal Ministry of Environment officials, hunters and traditional healers as well as non-governmental organisations NGOs, agreed that ignorance , greed and lack of proper prosecution of cases of illegal trade in vultures were factors encouraging the rise of illegal wildlife trade, especially vultures in Africa, particularly Nigeria.
They lamented that despite the belief that vultures are bad omen, the basic fact remains that these birds play significant impact in the lives of humans, pointing out that they help to reduce the rise of disease and serve as tourist attraction and also as source of revenue generation.
According to Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Director-General of NCF, “Vultures which are being actively harvested in Nigeria and across Africa for various mystical reasons play unpaid sanitary inspection roles among others. Vultures are very important, they are our unpaid sanitary inspectors. “Some people call them garbage collectors but they are beyond just collectors, they are like PSP, treatment plant and landfill all rolled into one because they actually clean up the environment and prevent us from having nasty diseases.
“They prevent the proliferation of pests because they eat up carcasses. If vultures go into extinct then we must use very effective and efficient garbage disposal system. And by doing that, it means that there will be diseases, there will be deaths, there will be revenue loss to the country and also we will deprive future generations of knowing that vultures ever existed”, he stated.
NCF boss however, added that NCF was doing all it can to address the situation through organising sensitisation programmes and through partnerships with key stakeholders in the sector.
Dr. Joseph Onoja, NFC’s Technical Director, in his speech, listed states like Osun, Oyo, Ogun in the south-west and Kano, Sokoto and Katsina in the north as hotspots for the trade in vultures in Nigeria.
Noting that illegal trade in any specie of wildlife affects biodiversity, Mr Adejo Andrew, Director, Federal Department of Forestry, Federal Ministry of Environment, noted that, “It is important to state that illegal trade in any specie of wild fauna and flora is a threat to maintaining our diverse biodiversity.
“,,,I must add that the case of threat to vulture is even more threatening because it is not traded illegally for export but for various belief systems on the efficacy of its parts being used by different traditional belief systems. So, all efforts to combat them should be put in place”, Andrew said.
The Deputy Head of Mission, British Deputy High Commission, Lagos, Mr. Peter Thomas, in his remarks explained that the U.K. has been at the forefront of eradicating IWT which has become the highest criminal revenue spinner after drugs. “The IWT continues to be a global problem, involving serious organised crime networks and work worth up to 17 billion pounds per year. That is more than 75 countries’ Gross Domestic Product GDP.