Vultures are a species that are considered to be facing extinction, even the most commonly seen ones – the White Backed Vultures. There are 22 species in total, and they all are struggling to survive from the threats that they have been put under, leading to extinction.
What are vultures?
Vultures are a bird of prey that scavenge off carcasses for food. They predominantly eat carrion (decaying flesh) alongside bones; their stomachs have adapted to this by being extremely acidic.
Their population has decreased drastically within the last 30 years. In India the population has fallen from 800 million to several thousand. Within Africa, the numbers have dropped by a rapid 90%. It is practically impossible to have an exact number on their populations as tagging and tracking all the vultures is expensive and almost impossible.
Why are vultures important?
All animals are important to the ecosystem, and they all have their own roles. The vultures job is to clean up carcasses, they are known as the ‘Clean Up Crew’ – without them, it would not only damage the ecosystem, but cost the economy huge amounts of money. It is not only the space that the carcasses take up, it is also the diseases that they transmit. Carcasses are perfect growing grounds for bacteria and fungi which the enter the food chain if not disposed of properly.
There has been a report published regarding the rapid decline in Vulture populations in India and how this has correlated to increased risk of rabies disease. The paper states that “increases in other scavenger populations may also have significant socio-economic impacts. Rats, feral cats and other species may increase in numbers, leading to spread of disease. ” Also worth mentioning, is that the paper states: “A fall in the vulture population could result in an increase in the dog population. India has the highest rate of human rabies infections in the world, and dog bites are the main source. Over 95% of human deaths due to rabies are due to dog bites.” This paper is linked below for those interested. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092180090800178X
What threats do they face?
Unlike most endangered animals, their potential extinction is not caused by habitat loss. Instead, most vultures die by poisoning. People within the community will poison carcasses that they leave out in order to reduce the numbers of predators in the area. Sometimes, people are unaware that vultures also scavenge on carcasses so this lead to accidental poisoning. If vultures are feeding off livestock with certain medicines in their system, this also create the same effect. However, there are cases where people poison vultures on purpose. Below is a recent mass poisoning that killed 27 vultures, only 2 were able to be saved.
Another threat that vultures face is due to electrocution (colliding with power lines), vehicle collisions and starvation.
How can they be helped?
Unless you live in Africa or India, the best way to help these important and endangered animals is by raising awareness and donating funds to charities like the Wildlife Act.
If you do have vultures in your home country, then also raise awareness to farmers and the local community. Power lines can be made to fit the wingspan of the birds to avoid electrocution; if certain medication is given to an animal, then ensure the carcass is disposed of properly.