India has always been a land with a robust vulture population, owing to its 500 million cattle population (almost half of the world’s 1.3 billion) and the taboo associated with eating beef (80% of the country is Hindu). However this situation has drastically changed in just a generation.
From 1992 to 2007, the Indian population of some 400 million vultures of 9 species has dropped 99.9% due to the widespread use of a drug used to treat inflammatory disorders and pain in cattle called diclofenac. The indigenous White-rumped Vulture alone, with a population of some 80 million, was described in 1985 as “possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world.” Today the White-rumped Vulture is listed as Critically Endangered. Tragically, a vulture that eats the flesh of a cow to whom diclofenac was recently administered quickly perishes from acute kidney failure.
This vulture population collapse has led to severe problems in India from undisposed cattle corpses. Whereas previously a bull could be cleaned in as little as 20 minutes by a pack of vultures, now the carcass putrifies and may cause water contamination from runoff. Moreover, the open niche has led to a sharp rise in the numbers of roaming wild dogs. Whereas vultures are an ecological dead-end for pestilence owing to their super-acidic digestive system, dogs and rats are much more liable to spread disease. Anthrax, plague, and the most fatal disease known to man: rabies, have seen a marked rise since the beginning of the vulture crisis. Today in India, 30,000 people die from rabies each year, more than half the world’s total.… Read the rest