|From:||stuart dashper <>|
|Date:||Wed, 06 Dec 2000 13:02:41 +1100|
Thought the following (edited) article in today's Age newspaper may be of interest.
By DAVID HARRISON and ANDREW MORGAN
Tuesday 5 December 2000
An unknown disease is wiping out vultures on the Indian sub-continent,
raising bizarre fears that the spread of bacteria from rotting human and
animal corpses could threaten human health.
A recent survey showed that more than 90per cent of the birds had been
wiped out in 17 key areas in the past decade. Entire populations are now
extinct in a number of national parks.
The situation is believed to be so grave that in September British scientists
flew to India to discuss the crisis with their Indian counterparts. One of
them, Andrew Cunningham, a wildlife pathologist from London Zoo, went
back last week to continue his efforts to identify the disease, thought to be a
virus that has killed tens of thousands of vultures.
Vultures are also important to consume dead animals, and without this
cleaning-up process, bacteria breed rapidly on the carcasses. Without
enough vultures, dogs feed on decaying animal corpses and as a result are
breeding more rapidly, increasing the threat from rabies.
Bird expert Peter Wood said griffon vultures were mobile enough to spread
the disease through their range, which extends from the Himalayas to the
Pyrenees, the Alps and South Africa. He said the situation was so serious
that a "healthy captive population" may be the only hope of keeping the
The white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and the long-billed vulture (G.
indicus) - part of the griffon vulture group - have been wiped out in the
India's Keoladeo National Park, near Bharatpur, and are under serious
threat in other areas. They are also thought to have disappeared from
Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park.
Experts are struggling to find an explanation for the loss of the vultures. An
early symptom of the illness is a drooping neck. The birds then become
lethargic and sickly, and die within a few weeks. Scientists say they have
never known vultures, slow-breeding birds normally living for 40 or 50
years, to be hit by anything like this.
"This is a serious problem," said Dr Debbie Pain, head of international
research at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "The disease is
spreading west very rapidly.
"The vulture is a big scavenger, especially in Africa, and if we don't find out
what this disease is, and stop it, then we could have a serious ecological
crisis on our hands."
The Bombay Natural History Society is working with India's National
Institute of Virology to look at possible causes of the vulture's decline,
whether vultures alone are spreading the disease or if there are other
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