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Public defense of Stephen Awoyemi's PhD Dissertation: Vulture decline in Nigeria: A sociological study of trade in vulture parts for belief-based use

Stephen Awoyemi
Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm

Vulture decline in Nigeria: A sociological study of trade in vulture parts for belief-based use

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Meeting ID: 955 7720 5663
Passcode: 546507


The problem of illegal wildlife trade is global in scope and is estimated to range from $7 to $23 billion per year including fisheries and timber. In southwest Nigeria, vultures and their body parts are routinely traded in open wildlife markets, a practice which is illegal according to the Nigerian National Wildlife Species Protection Act of 2015. Yet little is known about the socio-cultural factors that influence traders to sell vultures and buyers to buy these threatened species. Old World vultures (African-Eurasian) are among the most threatened group of birds today with a majority of them listed as Critically Endangered; the trade is thought to contribute importantly to their decline in West Africa. Therefore, the aim of this dissertation was to understand how socio-cultural influences have shaped and might be utilized to change the behavioral patterns of traders and buyers of vulture parts for belief-based use. Using Cultural Transmission Theory as a theoretical framework, ethnographic data were collected through semi-structured interviews and non-participant observation of traders and buyers of vultures and their body parts in wildlife markets in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, and Ilorin, southwestern Nigeria. Further, staff of the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria were purposively interviewed to give context to the study. Results show that, for traders of vulture parts, two socio-cultural factors, namely, cultural transmission (vertical and horizontal transmission) and social support are determinant in shaping behavioral patterns for trade of vulture parts for belief-based use. On the other hand, cultural transmission (vertical and horizontal) was also a determining factor in influencing buyers’ behavior to purchase vultures. In both cases of traders and buyers, vertical transmission means transfer of cultural traits from parents to their children while horizontal transmission means transfer of cultural traits to unrelated persons. Socio-demographic attributes were determined for sampled vulture traders in the study area to identify any associated ancillary factors that could contribute to explaining or changing the behavioral patterns of vulture traders. For example, the mean age of 47 years for vulture traders may suggest that less youth are involved in the trade due to cultural erosion as a result of globalization. Further, the fact that Muslims were the most frequently encountered vulture traders (93.3%; n=30) could be an opportunity to engage them for behavioral change through Muslim opinion leaders. Interviewed Federal Ministry of Environment staff opined that legislative enforcement, awareness campaigns, alternative means of livelihood and research were avenues to stop the illegal trade in vultures. Based on the results of the study and prescriptions from Cultural Transmission Theory, proposals were developed for solving the research problem which entailed: the engagement of religious opinion leaders to bring about cultural change among illegal traders of vulture parts and the role of storytelling in giving rise to new familial values among buyers of vulture parts. Minimizing pressure on vulture populations due to killing for belief-based use could be achieved through demand reduction in southwestern Nigeria through the proposals given in this dissertation complemented by law enforcement.

Dissertation committee:

Supervisor: Brandon Anthony, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy (CEU)
Internal member: Alan Watt, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy (CEU)
External member: Ralph Buij, Animal Ecology Group, Wageningen University & Research

Opponent: Eszter Tormáné Kovács, Institute for Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation, Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Chair: Alice Choyke, CEU