The Role of Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Perspectives in Biodiversity Conservation


Nomthandazo Manqele – University of KwaZulu-Natal


Jeanetta Selier – South African National Biodiversity Institute

Colleen Downs – University of KwaZulu-Natal


The guild of practices and therapies adopted by indigenous people to prevent, treat and dispel diseases and spiritual ills is known as Traditional or Folk Medicine (TM). Traditional Medicine is an integral component of many indigenous people’s belief systems. It is multifunctional, involving the healing of physical ailments ranging from snake bites to rheumatism, while also serving spiritual and emotional needs. Traditional Medicine is often affordable, culturally acceptable, and accessible, especially, to remote rural marginalised communities. The World Health Organisation recognises TM as a significant contributor to global human health goals. However, plant and animal resources used in traditional remedies are often sourced from the wild, on an unsustainable basis. As a result, TM represents one of the global leading causes of wildlife declines. African vulture populations have decreased by 60 – 80% over the past two decades with 29% of mortalities attributed to TM use. Nonetheless, this practice remains poorly understood and this affects the capacity to devise effective vulture conservation strategies. As part of a broader project, this study aims to assess some aspects of traditional healing and the use of vultures in TM in KwaZulu-Natal, through in-depth interviews with traditional health practitioners (THP) and visits to muthi markets across the province. The study has thus far found that the use of TM in the province is increasing. Vultures represent an important ingredient in various remedies. The head, brains and feet are the most valued parts. Vulture parts are used to treat persistent headaches, grow businesses, and strengthen relationships, clairvoyance and good fortune. Crows may substitute vultures in certain uses, especially since vultures have become challenging to find, which is corroborated by the price of a single vulture which ranges from R1,500 – R3,000. Involving THP in vulture conservation efforts is likely to result in positive outcomes.