Wednesday, 30 July 2008

vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead squirrels. Stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry sir, only one carrion allowed!"

"where there is a carcass, there will be vultures,"
Malayan proverb

Not so now. A catastrophic decline in the number of Asian vultures due to the continued use of drugs in livestock means the noble, if picky, birds could be extinct within a decade. Vultures have an important ecological role in the Asian environment, where they have been relied upon for millennia to clean up and remove dead livestock and even human corpses. But their once-abundant numbers have been in decline for more than a decade. In 1999, the Bombay Natural History Society noted a 97% drop in the Oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) population at the Keoladeo National Park in the state of Rajasthan. Today the bird is considered to be "critically endangered", as are long-billed (Gyps indicus) and slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris) vultures which have been through a similar decline. The livestock painkiller diclofenac, consumed by vultures when they eat a carcass, has been blamed for the fall, in conjunction with other contributing factors such as the growth of city living. Studies in India, Pakistan and Nepal have found extensive evidence of diclofenac in dead vultures. The renowned ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali in The Book of Indian Birds described vultures as God's own incinerators, which cannot be replaced by even the most sophisticated ones which man may invent. (pic above I took in Orcha, Northern India last summer. A large colony of vultures were nesting on some tombs), (the collective noun for vultures is colony although something more gruesome like a murder would sound more appropriate).

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