Indian Vultures

Subject: Indian Vultures
From: stuart dashper <>
Date: Wed, 06 Dec 2000 13:02:41 +1100
Dear All,

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
                 birds going.
                 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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