05.04.08

The Value of Vultures

Posted in Conservation, Health, Pollution at 1:30 pm by justakim

The Asian vultures, the oriental white-backed, long-billed, and slender-billed vultures, are declining rapidly in numbers, by at least 97% each since 1992.

The painkiller diclofenac is used on humans and animals and are poisonous to vultures, When ingested, it shuts down their livers. While India has banned their production, diclofenac is still used in that country through imports and applying the human formulation. It does not take much; just 1% of contaminated carcasses can drive these species to extinction. About 10% of carcasses were found to be contaminated.

These species may be on the verge of extinction within the decade One may think that the loss of a few scavengers will make little difference, but these birds provide a vital environmental service.

The birds are critical to the ecosystem and for human health in India because they are the primary means of getting rid of animal carcasses in the nation of some 1.12 billion people, added Andrew Cunningham, who worked on the study.

Their demise is has led to a sharp increase in dead animals around villages and towns, which has boosted the numbers of disease-carrying rats and rabid stray dogs, he said.

This role is so important that there has been convergent evolution, producing unrelated Old World and New World vultures.

Is it worth saving these guys?

“Ironically, even though it is farmers using diclofenac that are killing the birds, when we say we are working on vultures, farmers thank us and ask us to bring them back,” says Cunningham.

Sounds like a yes to me.

Among other efforts, the Peregrine Fund is monitoring their locations.
Bombay Natural History Society

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