Indian white-rumped vulture
|Indian White-rumped Vulture|
|Conservation status||Critically endangered|
The Indian white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), also known as the Oriental white-rumped vulture or the Bengal vulture, is a bird of prey from the sub-family of the Old World vultures (Aegypiinae).
The Indian white-rumped vulture is an example of an originally common species, whose population collapses suddenly and without warning and thereby gets to the brink of extinction. Even towards the end of the 1980s, the Indian white-rumped vulture was frequent on the Indian subcontinent and from Nepal to Pakistan. Within 15 years, however, there was a decline of well-over 90%
The Indian white-rumped vulture resembles the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), but is somewhat smaller at 30–37 inches in length, a wingspan of 6.3–8.5 feet, and a body weight of 7.7-16.5 pounds. The naked head and neck is dyed gray to dark blue, and has a whitish to light-gray neck ruff. The back and rump, as well as the underwing coverts, are whitish; the remaining plumage is a dark brownish-black. The secondary flight feathers bear silvery streaks. The abdomen is somewhat lighter in color and has isolated white feathers. Juvenile birds are darker in color throughout, and will wear the adult plumage within four to five years.
Indian white-rumped vultures live in Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and southwest China. They prefer open tree landscapes and form different groups with other vultures, gathering with more than fifty birds on animal carcasses to eat. They devour everything, even bones, and sometimes they eat so much they cannot fly.
Breeding takes from October to February. The vultures breed in colonies of 20 to 40 pairs on tall trees. The number of whitish-green eggs is one to two, and they are incubated by both parents from 40 to 55 days. The chicks remain in the nest for another 80 to 90 days before fledging.
Once thought to be one of the most abundant large birds of prey in the world, the Indian white-rumped vulture has gone through a severe decline in numbers since the 1990s, with some researchers stating above 99.9%. Originally blaming a decline in wild ungulate species as well as improvements in the care of domestic livestock, the current assessment is the ingestion of carrion meat containing diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) meant as an anti-biotic for livestock; the drug causes kidney and renal failure in vultures and is fatal to the birds. Diclofenac is routinely used throughout southern Asia, and in largely-Hindu India its use proved to be particularly problematic where Hindus are forbidden to consume beef. In these regions dead cattle are usually left at the place where they have died, where they are eaten by the vultures.
Diclofenac was banned very quickly in both Nepal and India after recognizing its harmful effect on vultures. This contributed significantly to the fact that with the decline of vultures the population of rats and the number of carrion-consuming feral dogs greatly increased; with both came an increase in the number of rabies cases in humans. Despite the ban, diclofenac is still used in parts of southern Asia.
The Bombay Natural History Society and the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have begun a rearing program. In 2007, the first Indian white-rumped vulture chicks hatched in offspring stations in Haryana. As a further protective measure, non-toxic carcasses are laid out on open terrain. It is attempted to accustom the remaining vultures to these feeding places and to bind them to these places until diclofenac-injected animals have disappeared from the natural cycle. Such feeding places are currently being operated in Nepal and Cambodia, where the vulture stocks were less affected by drug poisoning, while a lack of feeding has had a negative impact on breeding success
- Couzens, pg 105
- Couzens, pg 106
- Couzens, Dominic. Atlas of Rare Birds; MIT Press, Boston (2010)