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3.2.2 Physical and mental health

Health care is one of the most important issues and major problems pertaining to the quality of life in Africa today. Hospital facilities are nowhere adequate and a considerable number of people living in rural areas in Africa rely on traditional medicines for health care. The basis for traditional medicines and the primary ingredients used by the traditional healers are wild animal and plant species. The practice is widespread in Africa and market stalls selling plants and animal parts for medicines are common in both rural and urban markets in many African towns and cities. A large number of wild animal species and their products, used alone or with herbs, form the basis of the medicines used by traditional healers. Animal parts used include the meat, hair, skin, tail, bones, teeth, fat, glands and faecal pellets and the ailments treated range widely from mental and physical illnesses to antenatal care.

The list of wild animals believed to have medicinal and curative properties is long. Maliehe (1993) list the scrub hare Lepus saxatilis; cape hare L. capensis, porcupine Hystrix africae australis, the polecat Ictonyx striatus and the pangolin Manis temminckii as animals whose body parts are used in traditional medicine in South Africa. The pangolin is considered to be a particularly potent medicine by the Lobedu tribe in north-eastern Transvaal. Adeola (1992) recorded 23 species of wild animals including 16 mammals, six reptiles and a bird used for healing and preventive medicine in Nigeria (Table 3.10). Another 34 species were used in fertility treatments and 33 species were used in potency and aphrodisiac medicines. Whole animals or parts and faecal droppings of 26 species of wild animals were used in traditional medicines among communities living around forest national parks in Ghana (Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1992; Table 3.11).

A single species or specific parts of a particular species may be purported to have curative powers for several diseases e.g. the fat extracted from the Python and the Manatee is used to cure rheumatism, boils and back-ache while oils from the Leatherback turtle is used in the treatment of stroke, fevers, general body pains, skin diseases and constipation; and elephant dung is reported to be used for the treatment of at least five different ailments. In the case of a species such as the African giant snail, all parts of the body including the shell, the flesh and body fluids are used in the treatment of a whole range of ailments including hypertension, anaemia and convulsions in children. (Table 3.12).

Table 3.10 Wild animals used by Nigerian farmers for healing and in preventive medicine. (Adapted from Adeola, 1992)


Part used


Grey duiker Intestine Treatment of stomach ache
Buffalo Bone To prevent vomiting
Bushbuck Head Ingredient in medicines for leprosy
Waterbuck Skin and placenta Prevention of sleeping sickness
Leopard Skin Anti snake venom
Civet Anus Prevention of convulsions
Hyena Bone Preparations to invoke witches
Mongoose Anus To ward off evil spirits and witches
Gorilla Penis Used in anti poison drugs
Patas monkey Skull Cure for whooping-cough
Squirrel Hair Used in anti poison drugs
  Whole Preparations for preventing convulsion
Porcupine Intestine Treatment for stomach ache
Pangolin Head To stop bleeding
Aardvark Bone Treatment for backache
Warthog Legs Prevention of lameness
Francolin Bone Cure for retardation of walking in babies
Tortoise Whole Treatment for chest pains
Crocodile Intestine Anti poison drug
Puff Adder Intestine Prevention of adultery in women
Python Bone Treatment for backache and spinal cord disorders
  Fat Cure for rheumatism
  Fat Cure for broken bones and joints

Table 3.11 Medicinal uses of wild animals among communities living around forest national parks in south western Ghana. (Source: Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1992)


Part used


Mode of application

African Civet Faeces - Gonorrhoea
- Keloids
- Bad body odour
- Added to pepper and used as enema. - Smeared over affected part
- Mixed with shea butter and used as body cream
Anal gland - Spiritual powers - Used in body creams to drive away evil spirits
Leopard Skin - Convulsion
- Kwashiorkor
- General body weakness
- Worn as talisman around the waist.
- Worn as talisman around neck
- Used with herbs as body ointment
Bone - Weak child - Put in water for bathing
Lion Skin - Convulsion
- Weak child
- Vanishing powers
- Worn as talisman around waist.
- Put in water for bathing
- Worn as a talisman.
Ratel Bone, skin and hair - Spiritual powers - Burnt, mixed with herbs and used as body ointment; by hunters for fortification
Bone - Weak child - Put in water for bathing
Mongoose Faeces - Barrenness
- Spiritual powers
- Mixed with herbs and used as body ointment.
Chimpanzee Bone - Abdominal pains - Ground into a powder and sprinkled on food.
Black & White Colobus Monkey Meat - Purification & strengthening of widow/widower - Used in food.
Faeces - Spiritual strengthening after birth of tenth child
- Miscarriage
- Mixed with herbs and used as body ointment
- Mixed with herbs used as enema
Olive Colobus monkey Hair - Diseases in children associated with close births - Used as talisman.
Red Colobus Monkey Skin - Bruises and rashes on new-borne babies. - Used to wrap up medicines used as talisman.
Bossman's Potto Hair - Burns - Mixed with honey and smeared
Maxwell Duiker Hooves - Antenatal care - Used with herbs in palm-nut soup
Meat - Purification and strengthening - Used in food
Skin and Horns - Magical powers to catch thieves - Used in food
Black Duiker Horn - Magical powers to catch thieves - Used with incantations to catch thief
Royal Antelope Brain - Magical powers to catch thieves
- Diseases resulting from evil spirits
- Used with herbs
- Used with herbs
Horns - Childhood illnesses associated with close births - Used as talisman
Bush Buck Skin - General body pains - Used in ointments.
Elephant Dung - Childhood diseases associated with close births. - Used as enema or smeared on body of sick child
  - Bone fractures, oedema, elephantiasis - Mixed with herbs and smeared on affected part
Molar tooth - Toothache - Boiled in water and liquid used as mouthwash
Giant Rat Head - Fertility improvement - Used with herbs in food to promote pregnancy
Palm Squirrel Faeces - Removal of thorns - Applied to affected part
Tree Pangolin Scales - Cough - Burnt, ground and added to stews/soups.
Brush-tailed Porcupine Stomach contents - Breast abscess - Dried contents mixed with ground tree bark and smeared over breast
Grasscutter (Cane rat) Faeces - Weight loss in children - used as enema
Tortoises Testes - Stammer in children -
Crocodile Bile - Poisoning -
Snake (Vipers) Head - Snake bites - Ground with herbs and applied
African Python Fat - Swellings

- Rheumatism

- Smear on affected part

- Smear on affected part

Bone - Removal of thorns - Rub on affected part.
Chameleon Whole - Antenatal care

- Diseases in new-born baby

- Convulsions

- Used with herbs as enema by pregnant woman.

- Worn as talisman on wrist.

- Mixed with herbs and smeared over body.

Mud-fish (Clarias sp.) Head - Fertility improvement - Used with herbs in food to promote pregnancy.

Table 3.12 M
dicinal use of the African Giant Snail among rural people in Nigeria
. (Adapted from Osemeobo, 1992)

Part of snail used

Number of Respondents


Condition used for




• Suppression of hypertension
• Curtail aggression
• Malformation in bone structure
• Promotion of easy child birth
• Nourishment of lactating women
• Cure of anaemia
• Suppression of convulsion




• Stop bleeding from cuts
• Healing of amputated fingers
• Treatment of eye problems
• Circumcision of male children
• Suppression of small pox




• Anti-rheumatic
• Storage for charms against body pains
• Storage for charms to command people against their wish

Traditional medicine is based on years of experience gained from practice and indigenous knowledge passed on from one generation to the other. The actual proportion of the population in Africa which depends on this form of health care is unknown and attempts have not been made to quantify the value and benefits of wildlife/wildlife products as medicines in monetary terms. The popularity of traditional healers and traditional medicine may be attributed to a number of reasons including:

a) confidence in the system: the belief in traditional medicine is still very strong in rural areas in Africa and some people believe that such medicines are better and more potent for certain types of ailments than modern medicine.

b) financial limitations: the cost of both the healers and the medicines are far cheaper than modern medical facilities' in many cases, the curative powers of certain wild species is common knowledge and self-medication is practiced regularly.

c) accessibility: traditional healers are easily accessible and often available in remote areas where hospital facilities are no where close by. In Zimbabwe it is estimated that the ratio of traditional healers to the population is 1:234 in the urban areas and 1:956 in rural areas. The estimated proportions for the continent as a whole is 1:200 as compared with 1 :100,000 for western trained medical doctors (Makombe, 1994)

The effectiveness of most of the medicines from wild animals/wild animal parts has not been scientifically studied and proven and their potency in many cases may be questionable. In some cases, it is easy to comprehend why people would believe in the curative powers of certain preparations e.g., the use of faecal pellets of herbivorous animals which feed on plant species that are known to have medicinal properties. In other cases (e.g. the spiritual powers and vigour associated with the bones of many species of carnivores and the chameleon), it is difficult to find a scientific basis for such beliefs. This, however, could be linked to the myth and awe that surround such animals in rural Africa e.g., the lion is associated with strength and ferocity while the chameleon's ability to change colours is attributed to some magical powers. What is important, however, is that those who use traditional medicines out of preference or out of necessity believe in their effectiveness and will continue to use them for a long time to come. By relying on these cheaper/free forms of medicines, the money which would otherwise be spent on medical bills becomes available for purchase of food or other essential household items. The strong belief in traditional medicines based on wild animals provides an incentive for the conservation and/or increased production of the species involved.

Some wild animal species, e.g. primates also contribute to health care through their use in the big-medical research. Gorillas were heavily exploited in some parts of Africa to obtain specimens for research centres in the west and also for zoological gardens (see e.g. Pi, 1981). Some wild animals provide valuable products for the development of modern drugs. Snake venom is in much demand for its therapeutic properties: the two types of venom, haematoxin and neurotoxin are used in treatments for haemophilia and in sedatives and pain killers.

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