Fancy a lottery win? Smoke dried vulture brains

South African remedy for financial woes

Those of you feeling a bit cash-strapped following Xmas might find a solution in South Africa's traditional medicine, or muti, markets, where a particle of dried vulture brain could help you secure a vital cash injection.

According to AFP, the brains are "rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapors", with remarkable results. Vendor Scelo, punting his wares in downtown Johannesburg's muti market, explained: "Everybody asks for the brain. You see things that people can't see. For lotto, you dream the numbers."

This comes at a price, though. Scelo sells a tiny speck of brain in a bottle for 50 rand (£4.20), while a whole vulture could be worth 2,000 rand (£168), with its bones and feathers used to brew other traditional cures.

One anonymous traditional healer, or nyanga, noted that the vulture's head was the most desired part since it endows users "with the bird's excellent vision that helps them fly out of nowhere to descend on carcasses".

This popular belief, "shared along Africa's east coast, as well as in some west African countries", explains why the brains might reveal lottery numbers, as well as having other exceptional powers.

Mthembeni, a young Zulu looking to buy "a blend of ground brains and beaks" for his dogs, elaborated: "I put it on their nose. Then they can detect any strange presence from kilometres away. It gives security to my family."

The loser in all this is, of course, the vulture. AFP says that a study by two wildlife groups showed at least 160 birds find their way onto the muti market each year, while researcher Steve McKean "estimates that up to 300 vultures are killed by a variety of causes, especially in the eastern province of Kwazulu-Natal, where poaching still goes largely unpunished".

McKean warned: "Traditional use as it is currently happening is likely to render vultures extinct in southern Africa on its own within 20-30 years."

Back in the Johannesburg muti market, Scelo admitted: "Vultures are scarce. I only have one every three or four months." ®

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