Kamrup vulture deaths- It is time to fight for the birds, if we want to secure our own future
The decline in vulture populations in some parts of the world, including India, may have serious consequences for ecosystems and humans alike
Wildlife authorities in Assam recently said they had found the carcasses of nearly 100 endangered vultures and made efforts to save many others in a critical condition.
The birds were found dead near the Chhaygaon area in Assam’s Kamrup district, about 54 km west of Dispur, the capital city of Assam. Veterinarians, wildlife field staff and other officials have been sent to the area to take stock of the situation. Clearly, this development has been very painful.
Vultures are often overlooked and perceived as lowly scavengers, but they play a crucial role in the environments in which they live. A vulture is a bird of prey that scavenges for its food, meaning that it searches the ground for animal carcasses to eat. Typically, these carcasses are what is left uneaten by other predators.
Vultures can be our allies in mitigating the spread of disease that can otherwise infect other animals, including livestock and humans. These scavengers do the dirty work of cleaning up after death, helping to keep ecosystems healthy and prevent the spread of disease.
Vultures have an extremely corrosive stomach acid that allows them to consume rotting animal corpses. These scavenged leftovers are often infected with anthrax, botulinum toxins and rabies that would otherwise kill other animals.
Therefore, when vultures consume carcasses, they keep diseases in check. They are a key factor in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Because of their role as nature’s garbage disposers, vultures are able to keep the environment clean and free of contagious diseases.
Because vultures are attracted to carrion (dead animals), they have played an indirect role in helping authorities identify illegal poaching activity. This is particularly true of elephant and rhinoceros poachers, who leave the animals’ bodies after removing their tusks and horns.
Vultures are attracted to the remains and fly in circles around the ground where it has been left behind. Authorities are able to track recent instances of illegal hunting by following these scavenger birds and taking note of where they are circling.
The decline in vulture populations in some parts of the world, including India, may have serious consequences for ecosystems and humans alike, according to a new study that suggests poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing the scavengers.
Poisoning is the greatest extinction risk facing vultures and impacts 88 per cent of threatened vulture species, researchers from the University of Utah in the United States have said.
Losses of vultures can allow other scavengers to flourish. Proliferation of such scavengers could bring bacteria and viruses from carcasses into human cities, researchers said.
They examined factors affecting the extinction risk of more than 100 bird species, including 22 species of vultures, which eat carrion exclusively, and other scavenging birds that have broader diets.
The results suggest several inherent ecological traits that likely contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialised diets, researchers said.
However, more research is needed to effectively conserve these birds as currently, little is known about how disruptions of social habitats may contribute to declines and impede recovery.
Scientists highlight the need to focus on how population declines may inhibit information sharing — as individuals in flight scan wide distances and head towards areas where other individuals are descending to a possible carcass — and how this could be combined with research into carrion diversity to highlight key areas for vulture restaurants.
Because when we fight for vultures, we fight for the whole ecosystem, including ourselves. The time has come to seriously consider vultures, otherwise, we will be responsible for our future.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Times of Nation
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