Who would have thought that the World Cup would be such a disaster for endangered birds? And yet, thanks to a barbaric folk magic belief that involves drying and smoking the brains of vultures, it’s becoming exactly that.
In South African traditional medicine called muti, vulture brains are dried, powdered, and smoked as cigarettes to give users what they believe are dreams about the future—including visions of winning sports teams–making the practice a mainstay of World Cup gamblers, Scientific American reports.
Seven of South Africa’s nine vulture species are endangered, and whether they’ll be able to survive the head chopping rampage of muti devotees–or, more precisely, those profiting from this hideous superstition–is debatable. Other big sellers include snake skins, ostrich feet and donkey fat (to chase away bad spirits), but the vulture is the rarest of all the coveted animals and sells for the highest price.
Under normal market conditions, a tiny bottle of dried vulture brain dust sells for the equivalent of $6.5o US. The dust is mixed with mud and rolled into a stick for smoking. Other parts of the bird (beak, claws) can also be ground into the mixture. Under typical, non-World Cup market conditions, an entire vulture will sell for about $3000 US.
The rationale behind this belief, if you haven’t already guessed, is that the person smoking the vulture brain will take on the bird’s incredible vision that allows it to find carcasses from miles away. Without the World Cup brain frenzy, wildlife experts predict that the endangered vultures of South Africa have about 20 years left before going totally extinct. With the World Cup, all bets are off.