Wednesday, October 14, 2015

International Vulture Awareness Day

Himalayan Griffon Vulture
I want to celebrate and share with you International Vulture Awareness Day. These wonderful and spectacular families of birds, which I always promote with the term 'beautifully ugly', are an essential part of our world. Feeding largely on rotting carcasses, preventing the resulting spread of deadly disease, you would think people would do everything to conserve and preserve these creatures. Well, intentional and inadvertent interference by humans has pushed many species of vulture to the very edge of extinction. #LoveVultures
European Griffon Vulture
The vultures of our planet are classified into two groups: Old World and New World. The two groups are not related, similarities between them are considered to be a result of convergent evolution rather than any close relationship. In Eurasia only Old World vultures are found and unlike New World vultures, which have a highly developed sense of smell, Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight like other birds from this family do with their living prey.

So what makes vultures so special? Well, to repeat myself and strengthened their case, you have to understand they feed mostly on carcasses of dead animals, generally not killing their own prey. As scavengers they play such an important role in the ecosystem, assisting the decomposition of dead animal matter, cleansing the environment and most importantly for us, they reduce the spread of harmful diseases. In short, there is no reason to harm this group of birds and every reason to support efforts to conserve them.
Black Vulture feeding on a carcass
What are the current dangers to vultures? You may have guessed it, human interference, intentional and unintentional. Old World and New World vultures are under threat, the consequences of which has and will impact on us all. Here are just a few of the problems faced by vultures from human interference.

1. United States, the California condor has struggled to maintain a sustainable population as lead poisoning continues to be the single most important threat to its survival. Hunters using lead ammunition will at times wound target species and allow them to die in remote locations. Condors feeding on the carcass ingest the lead shot and as a result are slowly poisoned to death.
2. In Eurasia it has been found that the use of Diclofenac, a painkiller for livestock and humans in India and Nepal, has caused staggering countless thousands of vulture deaths. Recently, Diclofenac has been banned, but conservationists argue that it has come too late to allow for survival of vulture species decimated by its initial use.
3. In African countries, such as Kenya and Namibia, farmers targeting lions and other predatory species that they consider a threat to livestock and humans lace carcasses with the extremely toxic carbamate pesticide Furadan. Animals that ingest Furadan suffer horrible deaths and then themselves pose a huge health risk to other scavenger species that ingest their carcass perpetuating this deadly act.
4. Across the European Union scavengers are threatened with extinction owing to a well intended, but ill-conceived regulation introduced by the EU government in Brussels. This regulation (1774/2002) dates from the year 2002, where the fear of BSE or “mad cow disease” was rampant in Europe and the EU, which issued a number of new directives to protect the population as much as possible from exposure to the epidemic. As part of these new regulations, it was decreed that dead cows, sheep, goats and horses would need to be disposed of in a licensed animal disposal facilities. Before this new regulation it was normal that when farmed animals died in remote and inaccessible pastures, particularly in Mediterranean countries, they were either left where they were or taken to designated carcass dumps.
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Notes on other threats to world vulture populations.

In the EU, Diclofenac has been authorised in animals since 1993. Currently, the medicine is authorised for use in cattle, pigs and horses in five Member States. Conservation organisations, citizens and politicians have expressed their concerns over the risks that Diclofenac may present to vultures and other necrophagous bird populations in the EU. In September 2014, the European Commission asked EMA to investigate whether the use of Diclofenac in animals presents a risk to vultures and other necrophagous birds in Europe and, if a risk is identified, to provide an opinion on actions or mitigation measures that could be implemented to manage this risk effectively.

Africa's vulture population is in danger from illegal elephant and rhino poachers, a South African conservation group is warning. VulPro says poachers have been poisoning the carcasses to prevent the vultures alerting wardens.
Vulture populations are facing steep declines across Africa due to poisoning and the illegal trade in vulture body parts fuelled by traditional medicine. According to the first comprehensive analysis of African vultures, published in June in Conservation Letters, populations of seven African vulture species have declined by 80 percent or more over the last 30 years.

Vulture species in the Americas are sometimes accused of carrying anthrax or hog cholera, both livestock diseases, on its feet or bill by cattle ranchers and is therefore occasionally perceived as a threat. However, the virus that causes hog cholera is destroyed when it passes through a vulture's digestive tract. The turkey vulture also may be perceived as a threat by farmers due to the similar black vulture's tendency to attack and kill newborn cattle. The turkey vulture does not kill live animals but will mix with flocks of black vultures and will scavenge what they leave behind. Nonetheless, its appearance at a location where a calf has been killed gives the incorrect impression that the turkey vulture represents a danger to calves.

Hooded Vulture
Ruppell's Vulture
White-backed Vulture
Andean Condor


Patti Fritchie said...

You make a good case for conservation of vultures. Hopefully many will read, learn and spread the message. Thank you for your insight and for sharing information. Nicely done.

Mister Micawber said...

It is too bad that we have to 'make a good case' for the conservation of any creature. That should be a no-brainer.