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White-rumped Vultures (= Indian White-backed Vultures; Gyps bengalensis)
Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Explanation: Once strikingly common in cities and countrysides throughout the greater India subcontinent, White-rumped Vultures and related Gyps species have recently suffered drastic declines.
These population crashes of Old World vultures had startled and stumped ornithologists for some time, until recently it was discovered to be not a new virus, nor a decline in availability of their carrion (dead animal) prey, but rather the presence of a veterinary drug in the livestock they have been consuming.
Of the 7 species of Gyps vultures in Africa and Asia, three have been vanishing from the Indian subcontinent: the White-rumped, Long-billed, and Slender-billed Vultures. Recently a Washington State University veterinarian had identified the drug diclofenac to be the cause. Diclofenac is widely used to treat livestock but causes kidney failure in vultures. The drug has not been much used in North America, so New World vultures may not be in harm's way.
Why should we worry about losing vultures? Vultures play critical "clean-up" roles in their ecosystem, including in cities and suburban environments. They reduce spread or outbreaks of livestock diseases including anthrax and foot-and-mouth.
Without vultures, other predators that feed on carrion have increased, such as foxes, which carry rabies.
Without vultures, farmers that rely on disposition of dead animals now must deal with the expense and trouble of disposing of them.
Without vultures, the native peoples of the Parsi tribe cannot conduct their ancient rites of "sky burial" by which human corpses are consumed by vultures in religious ceremonies.
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