It was in later half of seventies I was in my high school studies . Our school was located out side the village limits and right across the road ,less than few hundred meters from the school was a hill and a small part of the hill was used as a dumping ground for carcass of dead livestock of village. From our class room I could see sometimes big birds soaring in sky and coming down to ground when carcass is dumped in the area. Even from that distance I could see their big size and long neck. We were told they are vultures ( Rana Haddu in Kannada ) . Though they were not seen daily , their sightings on any day made us believe that somewhere in village a cattle has died . It was a common thinking to associate vultures with death or kill. Years passed and I was busy in my studies , moved to different places but whenever I passed by that road almost subconsciously I used to look for these birds –Vultures ,though till today I haven’t seen them again. It was almost 30 years later ,when I developed interest in birds and photography I asked my friend Dr Rathnakar about any dumping ground of carcass around Shimoga so that I can see vultures and the answer I got shook me almost. I learnt then that vultures are almost extinct . He narrated that their race in India faced a near extinction due to adverse effect of eating carcass of livestock treated with drug Diclofenac .Since then I made several searches and went little deep into this issue and though I travelled several places for wildlife and birding I was not fortunate to see a vulture till recently . It was only in first week of December, in Bikaner,Rajasthan I could see vultures for first time in so many years.
Vultures are large birds which are scavengerine birds and birds of prey. As a bird vulture is not an attractive bird. There are different types of Vultures, White rumped vulture, red headed vulture, Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures etc. They usually eat dead animals and even meat which is putrefying. Their digestive system has capacity to digest meat which is rotting and they can digest even such meat which is infected with deadly bacteria like Anthrax. Upto early part of eighties they were very common birds in India and by next few years their numbers started declining and by later half of nineties their numbers had declined to critically low figures It was then learnt that such rapid decline in numbers of vultures in India was due to use of a drug Diclofenac in cattle and other livestock.. When those animals died and the carcass still contained Diclofenac in the dead tissues , vultures which fed on such carcass developed kifney injury and subsequently died in few days. Diclofenac is a very common drug used in Humans for pain relief and subsequently used by veterinarians for pain relief in animals. By the time this was taken into cognizance it was too late and from few millions in numbers ,the vultures had come down to hundreds. Govt Of India banned use of Diclofeanc in Veternary practice in 2006 a move considered too small and too late. But by that time nearly90% vulture population in India were wiped out. But the alternative drug Meloxicam was costlier compared to Diclofenac and though Govt had banned it in Vet.Practice they were still able to use it as availability was not a t all a problem .It is still widely and easily available for human use and the same vials are used by Veterinarians also for use in livestock. Though this fatal effect of Diclofenac is seen in some species of vultures and not in all ,Those which are able to digest diclofenac like Eurasian Griffon vultures and Egyptian vultures have escaped largely but the Indian vulture, White backed vulture ,red headed vulture have almost reached status of critical endangered species. Vultures once ubiquitous in India has now been confined to very few places that too in very small numbers.
In an environment everything has a chain effect. As the number of vultures declines their place was taken by feral dogs. These dogs have thrived on meat of dead animals and rapidly increased their population . When it was difficult for them to get enough food these dogs started attacking humans. There are several cases of human attack by feral dogs. It is becoming a menace to control the numbers of feral dogs in several cities and even villages. Many animal borne diseases started resurging after vultures declined . With forest area dwindling leopards from forest started looking out of their domain and found an attractive prey in dogs. So many cases of leopard trespassing into villages are due to increase in dog population and vultures decline has a connection to this phenomenon This is how everything is interconnected in nature and it might be passed off as foolish if some one says Dic;ofenac is connected to leopard –human conflicts !
Though there are several efforts to revive vultures it takes time to yield effect. Hopefully they will be successful and we will be able to prevent them from extinction.
The pictures in this blog are taken at a place called Jorbeed about 15 kms from Bikaner,Rajasthan, This area is one of largest dumping ground of carcass in India and they are tested for presence of Diclofenac in tissue and only such meat which is free from the drug are dumped here. Every winter number of Griffon Vultures from Europe ,Central Asia, Himalayan area migrate to this place for spending winter. I was able to see about 5 cinereous vultures, a flock of about 20 Eurasian Griffon vultures on ground and several of the perched atop small trees there. Egyptian vultures are seen in thousands here In addition to Vultures this area has large number of big sized Steppe Eagles, Tawny eagles, Imperial eagle etc.This is one place which is to be visited for anybody inetersted in birds and bird photography.
A flock of Eurasian Griffon Vultures
An Eurasian Griffon Vulture in flight
Perched on a tree -Eurasian Griffon Vulture
A Cinereous Vulture : One of largest Vultures with a wingspan of around 2 meters.
A cinereous Vulture taking off!
Another angle of same bird
Another flock of Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Egyptian Vulture ,
Egyptian Vulture perched on a tree