Gyps indicus indicus
The Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) is an Old World vulture native to India, Pakistan and Nepal. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2002, as the population severely declined. Indian vultures died of renal failure caused by diclofenac poisoning. It breeds mainly on hilly crags in central and peninsular India. The birds in the northern part of its range once considered a subspecies are now treated as a separate species, the slender-billed vulture Gyps tenuirostris. These were lumped together under the name long-billed vulture.
The Indian vulture is medium in size and bulky. Its body and covert feathers are pale, its quills are darker. Its wings are broad and its tail feathers short. Its head and neck are almost bald, and its bill is rather long.
It usually is 80–103 cm (31–41 in) long and has a wing span of 1.96 to 2.38 m (6.4 to 7.8 ft). It weighs 5.5–6.3 kg (12–14 lb). It is smaller and less heavily built than the Eurasian griffon. It is distinguished from that species by its less buff body and wing coverts. It also lacks the whitish median covert bar shown by griffons.
The species breeds mainly on cliffs, but is known to use trees to nest in Rajasthan. It may also breed on high human-made structures (like the Chaturbhuj Temple in the picture). Like other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals which it finds by soaring over savannah and around human habitation. They often move in flocks.
Status and conservation
The Indian vulture and the white-rumped vulture, G. bengalensis species have suffered a 99%–97% population decrease in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Between 2000-2007 annual decline rates of this species and the slender-billed vulture averaged over sixteen percent. The cause of this has been identified as poisoning caused by the veterinary drug diclofenac. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and when given to working animals it can reduce joint pain and so keep them working for longer. The drug is believed to be swallowed by vultures with the flesh of dead cattle who were given diclofenac in the last days of life.
Diclofenac causes kidney failure in several species of vultures. In March 2006 the Indian Government announced its support for a ban on the veterinary use of diclofenac. Another NSAID, meloxicam, has been found to be harmless to vultures and should prove to be an acceptable substitute for diclofenac. When meloxicam production is increased it is hoped that it will be as cheap as diclofenac. As of August 2011 the ban for veterinary use for approximately a year did not prevent diclofenac use across India. Small numbers of birds have bred across peninsular India, in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The decline in the Indian vulture has drastically affected the conservation of the environment. By removing all carcasses, vultures had helped decrease pollution, disease spread, and suppressed undesirable mammalian scavengers. In their absence, the population of feral dogs and rats, along with their zoonotic diseases, as increased greatly.
Captive-breeding programmes for several species of Indian vulture have been started. The vultures are long lived and slow in breeding, so the programmes are expected to take decades. Vultures reach breeding age at about five years old. It is hoped that captive-bred birds will be released to the wild when the environment is clear of diclofenac.
In early 2014 the Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (Save) programme announced that it expects to start releasing captive-bred birds into the wild by 2016.
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