Creature Features - Gods Own Incinerators: The Vultures

Posted by: Seema Khinnavar on

1. People who study vultures are known as Gypsophils
2. Oriental white-backed vulture which was commonly found in India has declined by over 99.9% over a period of just 15 years and continues to decline at a rate of 40% per year!
3. One of the main causes of vulture extinction is a drug known as Diclofenac. This drug is used to treat livestock. The residues of this drug remain in the carcass long after the animal dies. It is this drug that causes renal failure in vultures leading to visceral gout which causes immediate death in vultures.
4. Some of the other factors which are leading to vulture extinction are that vultures hatch only 2-3 eggs in a year but that too is reducing because excessive intake of pesticides by vultures has led to the thinning of egg shells. Vultures do not cross breed and inbreeding results in reproductive problems which further reduces mortality rates.
5. A group of vultures on the ground in known as the ‘venue' whereas a group of vultures circling in the air is known as the ‘kettle'!
6. A number of tribes in Maharashtra and Karnataka consider vultures to be unholy - they view them as aggressive predators which kill their cattle. Elaborate traps are laid out for them and carcasses are poisoned to kill them.
7. Civil Aviation and Airport authorities have special squads which hunt down vultures because they interfere in air traffic and are a threat to flying aircraft.
8. Vultures have a very well developed sense of smell and sight. (But they have poor night vision) They can spot a 3 foot carcass from 4 miles away!
9. Vultures have evolved from the stork's ancestors!
10. Vulture vomit contains very high levels of gastric acid and is highly corrosive; hence it is used as a defense mechanism.
11. Vultures radiate heat through their bald heads! Since vultures have bald heads, bacteria cannot survive on them for long; some bacteria that do manage to survive are baked off by the vulture in the sun!
12. Vultures keep circling in the air to gain height in order to search for food. They glide over thermal drafts and hence can fly for hours at a stretch without getting tired. The Turkey vulture can glide in the air for over six hours without flapping a wing!
13. The vulture can use the same nest for a number of years.
14. Vultures urinate straight down their legs. The uric acid in a vulture's urine is so strong that it can kill any germ or bacteria that the vulture has gathered while walking through the carcasses. Vultures lack sweat glands hence when the urine evaporates; it also acts as a coolant!
15. Meat in any stage of decay can be digested by the vulture. It also has the capacity to withstand most bacteria (like anthrax, botulism and cholera bacteria) which would normally kill other animals.
16. Vultures can eat a small animal in less than half an hour!
17. Ruepin's Griffon Vulture is the world's highest flying bird. A griffon vulture had once collided with an airplane which was flying at a height of 37000feet!
18. Vultures are one of the few animals which use tools. The Egyptian vulture uses rocks to break open ostrich eggs!
19. There are Towers of Silence in Mumbai in which the Parsi community leave the deceased to be eaten by vultures!
20. Bombay Natural History Society has been working towards establishing Vulture Safe Zone, Vulture Restaurant and Vulture Release Zones. They are also working towards completely removing Diclofenac from veterinary practice to prevent the extinction of vultures.