Ghanaian Vultures Face Extinction

Chinese eating them up


There used to be a time in the past when the skylines of all cities, towns and villages of Ghana hosted the presence of an indefatigable carnivore with a natural fetish for rottenness – the vulture.

With a natural ardent taste for decaying flesh, Aegypius Monachus, as the vulture is scientifically called, was a usual herald for decomposition, with its sorties within a particular area qualified as announcement of decay.

Because of the bird’s eccentric love for the putrid menu, the vulture seldom had love from people, with its ugly bald head and scrawny features adding to an ominous cachet that conspired to invoke superstitions about it.

People, back in the days, believed that the vulture was not only filthy, but also a totem of evil and witchcraft. With the benefit of hindsight, this seeming cruel estimation of the bird was a blessing.

This is because as urbanization turns the landscapes of Ghana into concrete jungles, and the emergence of scientific knowledge dispel the myth about the vulture, the bird has not only become a major victim of the gentrification, but it is also being eaten up.

Mr. Joseph Yaw Oppong, Public Relations Officer for the Wild Life Division of the Forestry Commission, concurs that the indiscriminate felling of trees is only one of many causes of the disappearance of vultures in Ghana.

Among others, Chinese sojourners in Ghana are also eating up the birds.

“It is not only the Chinese though who are eating the birds; before the Chinese there were some Ghanaians who were eating the vultures; however, the Chinese have come to aggravate matters,” Mr. Oppong said in an interview with The Gazette.

He laments that the eating of the birds is in spite of the fact that the Ghanaian vulture has been classified as an endangered species and thus has been put under the protection of law – Act 43, of 1961.

Mr. Joseph Oppong’s submission was a confirmation of the sentiments of Nana Oboadie Opambour Boateng Bonsu ll, President of the Concerned Farmers Association of Ghana (CFAG).

The Gazette’s contact with the Forestry Commission had been provoked by a complaint by Nana Bonsu ll that immigrant Chinese in the country are a huge part of the problem of the rapid extinction of Ghana’s vultures.

“The Chinese are eating them up!” He had complained to The Gazette in an interview.

Nana, who is on a mission to bring the extinction of the birds to the attention of the authorities, warns that very soon there will not be any vultures at all in the country.

“And this is bad news for everybody.”

This, Nana explains, is because the vulture’s role in the eco-system is one of a kind and fiercely monopolistic, in that it is the only carnivore scavenger which feeds on decaying flesh of other animals.

“Through such eating habit, it serves as nature’s own “bollar man” (waste manager),” Nana Oboadie said.

According to him, the bird’s position in the food chain is crucial to the survival of humans because it prevents diseases by eating decomposing flesh that would otherwise pollute the environment. Vultures have special enzymes in their digestive systems that break down bacteria and viruses.

“These days it is common to hear of the outbreak of rabies because the vultures are no longer around to eat the decomposed flesh of animals, leaving such flesh available for dogs to eat them up, a situation that leads to rabies infestations among dogs”.

If a rabid dog bites a human, the infection is instant.

Nana Oboadie warns that the spread of rabies is not the only risk that the country faces with the gradual extinction of vultures, but other serious and strange diseases which are spread by dead carcasses of animals.

“We in CFAG want government to, as a matter of urgency, do something about the situation before it is too late,” Nana said, adding that the promulgation of protective laws alone is not enough.

Mr.  Oppong concurs, saying “When we hold parties and we have our fun, after we have left the scene, the food garbage that is left attracts the vultures first. These birds clean the environment by feasting on such residue; indeed, we need to do something more, beyond the law to protect the birds.”

He said the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission has prosecuted a few people in the past for hunting down and eating vultures but this has not been strong deterrence.

“The last case that I remember, the person who was penalized was jailed for two weeks or so,” Mr. Oppong said.

Because vultures are scavengers, they naturally migrate to places where there is filth, helping to inform humans of the filth, while at the same time feed on such garbage to partly clean them from the environment.

Mr. Oppong said, since the vultures are endangered species the commission is doing what it can to protect them, but some people who have decided that they are vulture eaters are making it difficult to do so, warning that the vultures could be extinct soon.

However, even before the love for vulture meat was an issue, there was the destruction of the natural environment. Because vultures lay their eggs and hatch them in trees, the felling of these trees by both legal and illegal means has meant that their natural habitats are under destruction.

“This has forced some of them to migrate elsewhere,” Mr. Oppong said, adding that others too have not been able to survive the gentrification. The situation has not been helped by the drying up of wetlands, which, he said, are very important to vulture life.

According to him, wetlands are places that vultures naturally go to rest, shower and even cool off after a period of scavenging.  The destruction of these wetlands means increasingly, vultures are being deprived of a place of rejuvenation.

The Forestry Commission PRO also warns that it is not only vultures which are in danger of extinction.

“We need to find out why crows, just like vultures, are dying off,” he said.

Also, in as far as the problem of Chinese consumption of vulture meat is concerned, he said it was not only vultures that were falling prey to Chinese cuisine but frogs are also in danger of extinction with the Chinese around.

“I live at Afienya, near the toll booth, and I can tell you that whenever it rains, you will see Chinese come out and hunt for frogs,” Mr. Oppong said.

The PRO of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission warned that this siege on Ghanaian frogs from Chinese is also not good.

Mr. Joseph Agbo, Integrated Science tutor of Otwetiri MA Junior High School, concurs.

According to Mr. Agbo, frogs are a very important natural line of defense against malaria in the eco-system.

“Frogs feed on the larvae of mosquitoes,” he pointed out, adding that one of the natural scientific ways of fighting malaria is to introduce frogs and fingerlings into stagnant waters.

This will invariably lead to the consumption of the mosquito’s larvae before they grow into mosquitoes.

“And so if you have a situation where all the frogs in your environment are being eaten up, it means you are losing your first natural line of defense against malaria,” Mr. Agbo said.



Source: Fiifi Samuels

The Republic News Online

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