Gyps vultures are a critically endangered species, having faced a 99.9 per cent population decline in the last decade.
Of the few Gyps vultures left in India, some are in Assam.
In Assam, the only known breeding colony is in Sivsagar.
And in Sivsagar, a single poisoned carcass has led to the death of 55 vultures.
Photo: at the site, about 110 kms of Jorhat. By Mayur Bawri
The BNHS vulture team was informed about the death of more than 55 vultures. Villagers discovered the bodies on 24 January, lying all over the grass, most of them dead, and some of them just about to die.
Also found was a carcass of a cow, which had been laced with poison, presumably to kill stray dogs. The vultures fed on this single carcass and died. Tragically, killing the vultures may not have been the intended outcome. With the world’s last few Gyps vultures struggling for survival, breeding colonies– areas where vultures are known to roost and raise hatchlings–are precious. Disturbance, poisoning, or presence of diclofenac, the drug fatal to vultures, deals a staggering blow to the populations.
Of the 55 counted vultures, 22 were critically endangered White-backed Vultures. Four were critically endangered Slender-billed Vulture, and rest were the vulnerable Himalayan Griffon Vulture.
Vultures are dangerously close to extinction. Breeding sites are the last bastions for them, and here, battles are mounted to avoid poison entering their food chain. Vultures die immediately after consuming diclofenac, a banned veterinary drug; despite being banned, diclofenac is still being used, at the cost of the Gyps vultures. And like any other animal, vultures will also die if fed other poisonous chemicals.
This episode also shows us how a single carcass, poisonous for vultures, can kill so many of them. As vultures are community feeders, they eat together. And this is not the first time that vultures have died en-masse, after innocuously feeding on poisoned carcasses. Carcasses are poisoned because people want to illegally poison a tiger or leopard, because they want to eliminate dogs, or because they treat their cattle with banned diclofenac. Diclofenac is a pain-killer, not even a life-saver for the cattle. In so many ways, vultures are dying.
Is this their Last Supper?
Photo below: Always a fighter: acclaimed artist Raja Ravi Varma’s depiction of Jatayu vulture defending Sita