Traditional medicinal animal use by Xhosa and Sotho communities in the Western Cape Province, South Africa

Nieman, Willem A. ; Leslie, Alison J. ; Wilkinson, Anita (2019-07-09)

CITATION: Nieman, W. A., Leslie, A. J. & Wilkinson, A. 2019. Traditional medicinal animal use by Xhosa and Sotho communities in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 15:34, doi:10.1186/s13002-019-0311-6.

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Background: The use of animals and animal-derived materials in traditional medicine constitutes an important part of the belief systems of indigenous African cultures. It is believed to be rapidly expanding in South Africa, where traditional healers are estimated to outnumber western doctors by 2000:1 in some areas, with an overall clientele consisting of 60–80% of South African citizens. Despite concerns about the impact of the trade in traditional medicine on biodiversity, there has been only limited research on this topic in South Africa. Methods: Traditional Xhosa and Sotho healers operating from impoverished, rural communities in the Boland Region of the Western Cape Province were consulted to provide a comprehensive inventory of the number and frequency of animals used and sold. Species richness estimators, diversity indices, and a relative cultural importance (RCI) index were used to highlight species of concern and assess market dynamics. Results: A total of 26 broad use categories for 12 types of animal parts or products from 71 species or morphospecies were recorded. The most commonly sold items were skin pieces, oil or fat, and bones. Results showed that leopard, chacma baboon, Cape porcupine, monitor lizard species, puff adder, African rock python, and black-backed jackal were the species most used in the traditional medicinal trade. Conclusions: This study extends existing knowledge on the trade of animals in South African healing practices and provides the first attempt in the Western Cape to quantify wildlife use for cultural traditions. The results have relevance for setting conservation priorities and may assist in effective policy development inclusive of ecological sustainability priorities, as well as cultural demands.

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