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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Clarion call ~ vultures in line of extinction !!

The population of vultures numbering only around 250 to 300 at Moyar Valley amidst the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve(MTR) buffer zone limits makes this place a very critical hub of the giant bird as vulture conservation, studies and research have been confined to this part of the state in the recent times. Vultures, nature's own sanitary squad, whose jungle scavenging works is helpful in keeping the woods clean and tidy, are also helpful to check spread of dreaded germs from the woods to the outside world. Though vultures dominated the Indian skies, over the decades the eco-toxicological factors played havoc with the life of vultures. Its population not only declined rapidly over the decades, but had become a critically endangered species which needed highest level of conservation efforts.

Heard of ‘clarion call’ : the noun (usually singular) would mean  - a very clear message or instruction about what action is needed.  Initially thought that to have originated about a bird like vulture but read that it came after -   clarion type of trumpet (used for battle signals) in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  The Clarión wren (Troglodytes tanneri) is a species of bird. The wrens are mostly small, the  family includes 88 species divided into 19 genera.

Then there is the - birds of prey, or raptors, species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large relative to the hunter. Additionally, they have keen eyesight for detecting food at a distance or during flight, strong feet equipped with talons for grasping or killing prey, and powerful, curved beaks for tearing flesh.  Do you know that the  first Saturday in September each year is International Vulture Awareness Day. The International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from Vulture Awareness Days run by the Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, who decided to work together and expand the initiative into an international event.

Vultures are large to very large, robust raptors, generally known for their scavenging habits. They are strong fliers and are able to soar at great heights. Vultures can spot fresh meat from miles away. In fact, its vision is vastly advanced. Vultures also have an uncanny sense of smell. This kind of bird symbolism prompts us to use all of our senses to navigate in the pursuit of our highest benefit. In Roman mythology the vulture was the steed of the god Saturn (dominion over justice, agriculture, harvest and strength via control). The vulture was also associated with the god Mars (representative of strategy, military, masculinity, initiations, and protection).

Of all 23 species of vulture on the planet today, 16 are in danger of extinction and they could be history like the dinosaurs without you having known about them. Of that number, Africa has the most diversity having up to 11 species and nine being found in Southern Africa. In Africa today, vultures are faced with many threats to their populations. In Zimbabwe, one of the leading threats is intentional and unintentional poisoning done by poachers and some farmers trying to bait problem animals that prey on their livestock.  Commercialisation of traditional healing and divination also has become a major concern as poachers now trade in vulture parts for traditional medicines. To an African mind, the peculiar abilities of an animal or plant are spiritual and inherent in all its physical form and can be transferred to a human through possession or use of them.  This presents a big challenge to vultures and conservationists trying to protect them, the claims for clairvoyance are scientifically unfounded and faith-based, they stem from a misunderstanding of the ecology of vultures and how they locate food when they are foraging.

Another major threat in Africa today is power lines. Much of Africa still does not have a dense electricity network. Most power lines were designed without the consideration of vultures and other big birds. As a result, these big birds get electrocuted in their numbers on these unsafe structures or collide with the cables as they fly by.  Shrinking habitat  is a major threat too.

A vulture’s eyesight is needle-sharp: it can locate a recently-deceased animal carcass from as much as a mile away. And when we say recent, we mean recent. Vultures typically arrive on the scene within an hour of death, having roved as much as 200km that day in search of a meal. And then they get to work, picking the bones clean before disease has time to spread, far faster than scavengers such as feral dogs or rats can achieve. If you think about it, they are performing a huge humanitarian service. But for how long? ~ and are their days numbered !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
27th Sept. 2o18.

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