|Conservation status||Critically endangered|
The long-billed or Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) is a bird of prey from the subfamily of the Old World vultures, Aegypiinae.
Adult long-billed vultures have a wing span of 6.4 to 7.8 feet, a length of 31–41 inches, and a body weight of 12–14 pounds. Head and neck are darkly colored and naked, and there is a whitish neck ruff. It has very wide wings and short tail feathers. The feathers on the back and the tops of the wings are yellowish-brown. The beak is pale yellowish. The thighs are densely white-gray feathered.
The long-billed vulture is a scavenger, which usually finds itself in large groups feeding on animal carrion.
The breeding season are the months November to March. They nest on rocky outcroppings and on the ledges of dilapidated buildings. Where both are absent, they occasionally nest in tall trees.
Range and habitat
Long-billed vultures are found in the east of Pakistan, along the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, as well as in the north of Delhi and south of the source area of the Ganges River. They populate cities and villages as well as open landscapes and forests.
Similar to the long-billed vulture is the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris), which was once recognized as a subspecies, but is somewhat more robustly built and shows a longer, lighter-colored beak. Its distribution area includes a belt south of the Himalayas and extends to Southeast Asia. Both species have no geographical overlap.
The last population assessment taken of the long-billed vulture was in 2007, where it was estimated to have about 45,000 birds. It has gone through a severe decline in numbers since the 1990s, with blame falling on 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.
Several breeding programs have been started, including a rearing station in Haryana, in an effort to repopulate this and other species of vultures. As a further protective measure, untreated carcasses are laid out in selected places in order to bind the vultures, which are very loyal to the location, to these places until diclofenac has largely disappeared from the food cycle.