Exposure - Vultures in peril

Tibetan Buddhists and the Zoroastrians of India and Iran feed the bodies of their dead to vultures. Now vultures are dying in South Asia in epidemic proportions and it is feared that only captive breeding will save them from extinction.

Vulture, illustration

Photographer: © Australian Museum

Vultures are dying in South Asia in epidemic proportions and a new laboratory has been set up in India to identify a suspected virus that is killing them.

Some experts estimate that there has been a 98 per cent drop in the population of the two most common species of vultures in India.

Scientists fear they will have to try breeding at least one species in captivity to save it from extinction.

The big griffon vultures that used to be found everywhere in India started dying in the 1990s. In 2000, New Scientist reported that 95 per cent of Indian vultures of the genus Gyps had disappeared.

Since then, the remaining population has halved, and the die-off has spread to Nepal and Pakistan.

It is feared that the disease could spread to griffon vultures across Eurasia and Africa. The ecological impacts could be terrible.

In Bombay, the Parsi council has installed giant solar reflectors to hasten the process of decomposition of corpses because there are just not enough vultures around to consume all the bodies. It is also starting a vulture aviary on the premises with help from an overseas expert. Currently in Bombay there is an average of three Parsees dying every day and the handful of vultures at the towers are overfed. Experts say about 100-120 birds would be needed to deal with the daily intake of bodies

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Tags Death Online, disposing of the dead, vultures, exposure, Tibet, India, Iran, Iraq, endangered,