Why Indian Vultures are vanishing: A Complete Analysis?

30-MAR-2016 17:56

    In the decade of 1980s, the number of white-Rumped vultures was around 80 million in India. Today its number decreased to less than 60 thousand (2012).This is the fastest disappearance of any bird species in the world, including Dodo. As we know that vulture plays a prominent role in the sanitation work. The disappearance of vulture has resulted in the explosion of rats etc. This degradation cost around US $ 25 bn. up to 2015.

    Indian White-backed Vulture-


    Image source: ibc.lynxeds.com

    Introduction about Indian Vulture:

    Vultures are scavenger birds which feed on the carcasses of large animals, thus playing important role in cleaning of the environment. Vultures have been described in Indian mythological epic Ramayana where the vultures king Jatayu sacrificed himself while saving Sita from the clutches of Ravana.

    Strata Related to Indian Vultures:

    Today the fast disappearing population of vultures is a serious problem in India. The population of vultures in the country has reduced from 40 million (in 1990) to less than 60 thousand (2012). On 22 March 2012 it was declared that vultures have gone extinct in the state of Andhra Pradesh, with only five surviving birds at Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad.

    Vultures belong to various species and on average the most typical representative of them in India weighs between 3.5 - 7.5 kg, measures from 75 - 93 cm in length and has a wingspan of 6.3 - 8.5 feet. Vultures can soar to a height of 7,000 feet and can easily cover distance of more than 100 km in one go.

    There are nine species of vultures found in India, of which four have been listed as Critically Endangered.

    Table: Species of vultures found in India and their conservation status-


    Common Name

    Scientific Name

    Conservation status


     Bearded vulture


    Gypaetus barbatus

    Least Concern


    Cincerous vulture

    Aegypius manachus

    Near Threatened


    Egyptian vulture

    Neophron percnopterus



    Griffon vulture

    Gyps Mvus

    Least concern


    Himalayan vulture,

    Gyps Himaiayan

    Least concern


    Indian vulture

    Gyps Indicus

    Critically Endangered


    Indian white-rumped vulture

    Gyps Bengalensis

    Critically Endangered


    Red-headed vulture

    Sarcogyps Calvus

    Critically Endangered


    slender-billed vulture

    Gyps Ternuirostris

    Critically Endangered

    Source: IUCN Red data Book

    Utilities of Vultures:

    1. Vultures are the natural cleaners of the environment. They feed on dead decaying animals thereby enhancing the process of mineral return to the soil. Moreover, by disposing the dead bodies they check the spread of infectious diseases. In absence of vultures the population of animals like rodents and stray dogs tend to increase leading to the spread of rabies.

    2. The followers of the Zoroastrianism (Parsi community) religion in India have traditionally been dependent on vultures for disposal of their dead bodies. Therefore, for several centuries the vultures of India have been providing a crucial ecosystem service for the Parsi people.

    Causes of death of Indian Vulture:

    1. As per the analysis of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHs) veterinary use of diclofenac is the main threat to the vultures in India. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is a constituent of almost all gels, creams and sprays used to alleviate muscle pain.

    2. The drug is equally effective in cattle as well and when given to working animal it reduces joint pain and so keeps them working for longer. Thus widespread use of diclofenac as pain reliever in cattle is the cause of vulture's mortality in India.

    Since kidneys take a lot of time to flush this drug out of the system, hence even after the death it remains in the body of cattle. As vultures are scavengers and feed on the dead.

    Once they consume the diclofenac contaminated flesh, their kidney stop functioning leading to death.

    3. Pesticide pollution is also a threat to vultures in India. The chlorinated hydrocarbon D.D.T (Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane) used as pesticide enter the body of vultures through food chain where it affects the activity of estrogen hormone, as a result of which the egg shell is weakened consequently the premature hatching of egg takes place causing the death of the embryo.

    4. The Poachers use poisonous food to trap wild animals such as elephant, tiger, rhinoceros, deer and bear to take away the tradable parts such as hide, tusk, musk, antler, horn and bile. When this contaminated carcass is eaten by vulture they got died.

    How to Conserve Vultures in India:

    Disappearing of vultures is a matter of serious concern and needs immediate protective actions to conserve these vulnerable birds. Following strategies need to be adopted for the conservation of vultures in India.

    1. There is need to evolve an effective substitute of diclofenac, and the present available substitute meloxicam needs to be subsidized.

    2. Caxtive-breeding programme with aim to reintroduce vultures into the wild need to be launched on large scale, particularly for Critically Endangered and Endangered species of vultures.

    3. There is need to set up vulture feeding stations through provision of poison-free food, clean water, bone chips and perches within an open-roofed wire-mesh enclosure for safety and freedom of vultures.

    4. Government should establish vulture sanctuaries near Parsis crematorium for the disposal of corpses. This would also be helpful in increasing the Vulture's population because of availability of sufficient food.

    5. There is urgent need to ban on the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons like D.D.T.


    Fast disappearance of vultures in India is a matter of serious concern and needs immediate attention of the government to conserve these scavenger birds so that the environment can be keep neat and clean to avoid the rabies-related deaths.

    DISCLAIMER: JPL and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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