Smoking Vulture Brains in South Africa

Science 2-8-2017 Vice 229

Vultures are nature's garbage collectors. They play an important ecological role in preventing the spread of disease and infection amongst African mammals. A sharp decline in some species of African vultures has lead to a crisis that could threaten the entire ecosystem. 

One of the main reasons for the decline is the illegal trade of poached vultures. Often, those body parts end up in the hands of sangomas, South African traditional healers. Some sangomas use vultures in a variety of ceremonies, one of which includes smoking powdered brains to communicate with their ancestors. 

In this episode of Symbiotic, Motherboard visited a muthi market in Johannesburg to see this ceremony firsthand and to hear from both sangomas and conservationists.

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