Monday, May 09, 2016

Now for something completely different--vultures

Circling vultures are a standard bad sign--but if vultures disappear it's even worse.

A report in Biological Conservation says vultures are--er, croaking--from toxins in their carrion.

Most vulture species are either declining or about to become extinct.

This poisoning thing, which affects 88% of threatened vulture species, has a ripple effect.

In the mid-90s, India lost more than 95% of its vultures. This was traced to diclofenac an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle that is highly toxic to vultures (my sister took it, too, incidentally).

Vultures tend to feed in big crowds--so one cow would take out a lot of them.

In sub-Saharan Africa, potent new poisons are used to control predators such as lions or jackals. These are so toxic, mammals, insects, birds, everything around a carcass dies.

One elephant carcass killed 600 vultures in 2007.

OK, OK--so what.

In the vultures absence, animals that eat carrion as part but not all of their diet flourish--this includes crows, rats, gulls, and dogs. A lot of vultures can chase dogs off a carcass, but if there are only a few vultures, the dogs move in.

Vultures are also quick to get to the carrion--often before it goes bad. This prevents disease from forming--disease that can affect humans. Also, as happened in India with the dropoff in vultures, dogs can overrun--carrying rabies. Forty-eight thousand people there died of rabies--because of the lack of vultures.

Also affected are societies that put their dead out for vultures to consume. No vultures--you've got a problem.

Yes, we could bring back vultures--as we did California condor (a vulture).  But it would cost millions and would take decades.

Better to think about this now while we still have some of these ghastly but useful birds around.


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