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I was an anthropology major in college. It was the perfect major for someone like me, who can’t study unless they’re actually interested in the subject. Most of my classes revolved around interesting things done by unfamiliar people in faraway lands. It was like studying to be on a National Geographic special.
One of the concepts I remember most clearly from my days at school was the idea of “cultural relativism”, essentially the idea of viewing other cultures with unbiased eyes, rather than comparing them to one’s own culture. However, my anthropological education and my career in environmentalism somewhat frequently clash with one another.
Take, for example, a recent report released by nonprofit organization Nature Uganda, along with the Wildlife Conservation Trust and the International Crane Foundation. The report details the downfall of the gray crowned crane, Uganda’s national bird, in its natural habitat.
In a span of only 10 years, the Ugandan crane population has gone from 50,000 to 20,000, due in large part to traditional Ugandan folk healers who use the birds in traditional medicines.
These healers, along with poachers and in a smaller way development, threaten to destroy a species that, for many Ugandans, is the country’s symbol. The bird is the mascot of the national football team, and appears commonly on souvenirs and clothing throughout the East African nation.
Although killing the cranes for medicinal purposes is illegal in Uganda, the use of crane products for medicine is widespread. The study, conducted in the southern region of Uganda near Tanzania, found more than 40 dead cranes in the shrines of traditional healers.
The crane mates for life, which has led to a belief among locals that consuming the birds’ feathers and eggs will make relationships and marriages last longer. Many healers crush the eggs with herbs to make love potions, while the feathers, claws, and beaks are used as decorations or in drinks to enhance affection and monogamy.
It’s times like these when my ways of thinking tend to clash. While I’ve been trained to view other cultures without passing judgment, I also tend to have a habit of passing judgment on people who decimate the populations of wild animals. I believe the only solution may be education. Only with more education will people begin to trust traditional medicines less and more modern forms of medicine more, hopefully leaving behind the legacy of destroying animal populations in a desperate attempt for happiness at love.