Illegal trade in endangered vultures parts uncovered in West Africa

27.05.2014
Photo_ Torsten Prohl

New evidence for illegal trade in endangered vulture parts to feed the black magic market in Nigeria and Niger has been uncovered with the help of the partners of the LIFE+ project from Bulgaria and Greece and other partner organizations in Africa.

The illegal scheme, which involves traditional vulture hunters and traders, was uncovered thanks to the Egyptian vulture, Paschalis, who was killed in Niger. The vulture had been tagged with a satellite transmitter that allowed the unraveling of the illegal scheme. This case is just one of many in the region between Nigeria and Niger, where vultures and ravens are massacred in large numbers for traditional “magic” ceremonies and rituals.

The satellite transmitters provide vital information about the vultures, which is necessary for their protection. In that case it has also played an additional role: the modern tracking device provided information on when and where the bird was killed.

The vulture that was killed hatched in Greece in 2013, when it was given the name of Paschalis. Under the LIFE + project “The Return of the Neophron” the bird was tagged with a satellite transmitter in NE Greece. In the autumn, Paschalis successfully flew to Africa and settled in the southern part of Niger. The last signal from the vulture was received on 27 February 2014 from a place 140 km from the border with Nigeria. Next the signals received came from a house in a small village. A few days later, the transmitter was taken out to Nigeria.

The investigation was undertaken by partners of the LIFE+ project with the support of the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) in Niger, and the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) in Nigeria.  They discovered that Paschalis had been killed by a traditional vulture hunter who regularly comes from Nigeria to Niger to hunt. The aim is that the bird be sold to rich customers in Nigeria for traditional “magic” ceremonies. 

In the area that lies between Nigeria and Niger, Nigerian hunters massacre large numbers of vultures and ravens with this commercial purpose in mind. According to data collected, the number of vultures of all species that are killed with that purpose is massive (hundreds of known cases in the last 10 years). During his last visit only, the abovementioned hunter has killed eight vultures.

In Nigeria, vultures are perceived as a source of profit despite the fact they are protected by law. The black market there is commonplace. However, the attitude of local communities towards vultures in Niger is generally negative as it is considered to be a dirty and ugly bird. There also exists a “moral code” that says that witchcraft upon people is considered to be a crime. Therefore birds are not used in Niger, but are exported to Nigeria where there is great demand for this bird for witchcraft purposes.

In order to solve this serious problem, an integrated international strategy for protection of vultures is urgently needed. The first step toward this at local level is an education and awareness programme, something the Sahara Conservation Fund will be doing in Niger, as well as detailed research into the black market in vulture parts in Nigeria by the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute. At international scale, the LIFE+ project will coordinate the development of Flyway Action Plan for the Egyptian vulture under the BirdLife network and the support of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (CMS/Raptors MoU), and actively encourage the relevant countries to adopt the plan.

Photo: Sulaiman Muhammad, APLORI
Photo: Sulaiman Muhammad, APLORI
Photo: Abdoulaye Harouna, SCF
Photo: Abdoulaye Harouna, SCF
Photo: Abdoulaye Harouna, SCF
Photo: Abdoulaye Harouna, SCF
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