Monday, December 28, 2009

Is Lotto the last nail in the Vultures Coffin?

Lotto vultures resort to bird-brained scheme

The traditional medicinal practice of smoking dried vulture brains to induce a vision of winning lotto numbers is killing off the bird's population in South Africa, researchers say.

Scelo, a young healer in downturn Johannesburg's market for muti, or traditional medicine, says the birds are becoming more scarce.

"I only have one every three or four months," he said.

"Everybody asks for the brain. You see things that people can't see. For lotto, you dream the numbers."

Rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapours, vulture brains can also help at the horse races, boost an exam performance, or lure more clients to a business, according to believers.

Next to snake skins and ostrich feet, as well as donkey fat to chase away bad spirits, Scelo sells a small bottle with just a speck of ground brains for about 50 rand ($7.50).

The entire bird could go for 2,000 rand ($299).

Another traditional healer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says vulture bones or feathers can also be mixed with herbs to make medicines.

"We make the brain dry and mix it with mud and you smoke it like a cigarette or a stick. Then the vision comes," he said.

He prescribes mainly vulture heads, which he says bring visions of the future, endowing users with the bird's excellent vision that helps them fly out of nowhere to descend on carcasses.

According to experts, it is a belief shared along Africa's east coast, as well as in some west African countries.

A young Zulu named Mthembeni wanted to buy a blend of ground brains and beaks for his dogs, but he turned away, dismayed at the price.

"I put it on their nose. Then they can


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