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Pesticides Killing Vultures

Source National Geographic

By Vivek Dubey
Bangalore 20 Oct 2016: India is on the verge of losing six of its nine vulture species. T the Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) and White-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) along with four others are listed as critically endangered.

Eight cattle and pig carcasses were collected last December in Delhi, Bharatpur and other north Indian locations by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. The study found high levels of pesticides, including DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane). Despite being banned these pesticides.are still being widely used in agriculture

Ecological importance of vultures
"Vultures are important ecologically," says Sh. Jaibir Singh, Wildlife Inspector, Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre, Pinjore. "They remove the carcasses of dead animals which, otherwise, are left lying around rotting - thus increasing the risk of spreading disease.” He added “An army of 200 vultures can reduce a large buffalo carcass to a skeleton in 20 minutes.”

Jaibir says he recently saw nine uneaten carcasses on the 250-km road between Jaipur and Delhi.

The mammals also carry diseases from rotting carcasses such as rabies, anthrax, plague etc. and are indirectly responsible for thousands of human deaths. In India, 30,000 people die from rabies each year.

Danger to vulture eggs
According to Alka Dubey from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), pesticides could be working through the bodies of dead cows, buffaloes and other carcasses eaten by vultures. As a result, vultures' eggs would have thin shells that break during incubation before the chicks can form and hatch. Significantly, no vulture chicks have hatched at Bharatpur for the past three years. Adult birds too are falling sick, presumably diseased or poisoned.

Pesticides have been blamed globally for killing birds for 30 years or more. Alka says "Population decline and extensive mortality of birds strongly indicate the depleting health of the environment, and thus the healths of organisms that depend on it suffer due to the prevalence of pesticides”.

Financial impact of loss of vultures
According to a study conducted by birdlife.org in 2007, the expenses for medical care to treat animal bites cost India ₹750 million (US$11 million) per year. Vaccination and sterilization of animals cost money. It is estimated that the decline of
vultures could cost India ₹1,700 billion (US$25 billion) per year.

Nine years on, Indian vulture population decline has slowed, and in some regions their numbers have even begun to increase. But the population of the three hardest-hit species remains a small fraction of its former millions says National Geographic.


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