Vultures, once portrayed as harbingers of death, are themselves facing doom. Three of their species are on the global list of critically endangered birds. Rapid urbanisation leading to shrinking natural habitat and medicinal content in carcasses on which these vultures feed has reduced their numbers over the years.
In India, population of the prickly-feathered, baldheaded bird has fallen by 97 per cent, states the journal of Bombay Natural History Society.
If purists are to be believed, the worst is yet to happen. Several wildlife experts and some studies have found another reason for the dwindling count of the natural scavenger, threatening the extinction of the bird.
Vultures feed on carcasses and with these dead bodies carrying various chemicals, the chances of vultures procreating, get reduced.
“It is due to pollution that their calcium secretion glands, responsible for making their egg shells stronger, are in a precarious state,” said Hemanth Kumar, conservator of forest, Varanasi Circle.
Himself a wildlife enthusiast, Kumar has studied vultures closely and fears that the fragility of eggshells could be the biggest hurdle in adding to the population of vultures. “Vultures are paying the price for the deeds of we humans and now, only awareness can do some good to them,” said Kumar.
Their last formal sighting of vultures, in a fairly good number, was reported from deep inside the Dudhwa National Park in Lakhimpur Kheri. The best scavengers in the eco-system are now moving to places that could suit to their survival.
In Uttar Pradesh, they’ve found home at Chitrakoot due to its dense forest cover. Vultures are known for hatching eggs at heights—--mountains and preferably on Semul tree (bombyx ceiba).
As Semul trees gave way to human settlements, vultures are forced to lay eggs at relatively lower heights. “This makes their eggs fall prey to cats and other birds,” said Kumar. Use of diclofenac as as a pain killer for livestock also proves deadly for vultures when they consume the flesh of dead livestock. The birds by design have such stomach fluids that can digest the hardest of pathogens. But flesh induced with diclofenac was too harsh on them causing kidney failures and visceral gout," he said.
Not so long ago, vultures were found lying dead close to railway tracks in Sultanpur. The autopsy report confirmed that they were suffering arthritis as calcium deficiency had weakened their bones and their ability to fly.