Have you ever stared at the back of a dollar bill… on South African vulture brains?

Vultures in South Africa are in danger of going extinct because gamblers are smoking their brains. They believe doing this will give them visions of the future – like lottery numbers and the outcomes of sporting events.

This is one of those crackpot ideas that should have a short shelf life. If people were rational, they’d see that the people they know who smoke vulture brains then (probably) don’t win the lottery – and then stop smoking vulture brains. But it seems to have become an obsession on its own, kind of like how gambling itself can to some people. Just… a few… more… vulture brains….

From the Guardian article:

Andre Botha, manager of the birds of prey working group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, said: “People believe it’s foresight and this finds fertile ground in people’s imagination. If it worked for the lottery, everyone would use it and we’d have a lot of millionaires walking around today.
“There is a lot of betting in South Africa. So we may see an increase connected to gambling around the 2010 World Cup.”

For some reason the Guardian is calling people who do this “traditional healers” instead of more appropriate terms, like quack. It’s not objective to refer to this as “traditional,” it’s just enabling.

There are parallels to this around the world. The vulture brain story is just the one to become a news story recently. Another problematic area in “traditional healing” is the use of ground-up Rhinoceroses’ horns in China as an antidote to poisons, devil posessions, to keep away evil spirits, to cure typhoid, headaches, fever, dysentery, smallpox, and pretty much everything else. Similar use waste of tiger bones in China has led to their demise in that part of the world.

So people who are interested in preserving a diversity of animal species on Earth are left with what some might approach as a dilemma. They want to protect endangered species, but many of those same people have a misguided but well-intentioned desire to preserve marginalized human cultures – and never mind what those human cultures happen to be doing, even if it’s in direct conflict with the goal of protecting endangered species.

So the obvious solution, at least it’s obvious to me, is to not worry so much about how “OMG IT’S THEIR CULTURE” when that involves doing unnecessary harm. Otherwise you’ll have no reason to use that same principle to defend witch hunts and human sacrifices in the interests of communities which do that sort of thing.

Anyway, the important thing to remember about all of this is that smoking vulture brains will let you see the future.

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