World Cup 'Vulture Smoking' Theatens Rare Birds

Gamblers smoke birds' brains; bird lovers sqawk
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2010 4:16 AM CDT
Two adult Cape griffon vulture parents help feed their chick at the Los Angeles Zoo.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
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(Newser) – As the World Cup gets underway in South Africa, scientists are betting that one of the biggest losers in the soccer championship will be the endangered vulture. In South African traditional medicine called muti, vulture brains are dried, ground up, and smoked as cigarettes to give users what they believe are dreams about the future—including visions of winning lottery numbers or sports teams, making the practice a big hit among gamblers, Scientific American reports.

With seven of South Africa's nine vulture species classed as endangered, scientists fear the birds won't be able to withstand the boom in gambling—and the run on vulture brains—kicked off by the World Cup. "The harvesting of the bird's heads by followers of muti magic is an additional threat these birds can't endure," says the director of a South African bird conservation group.

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