Old World vulture
|Old World vultures|
|Lappet-faced vultures (left) and a white-backed vulture|
|Subfamily:||Aegypiinae and Gypaetinae|
Old World vultures are vultures which are found in the Old World, i.e. the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, and which belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.
Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two groups of vultures are due to convergent evolution rather than a close relationship. They were widespread in both the Old World and North America, during the Neogene. Old World vultures are probably a polyphyletic group within Accipitridae, with palm-nut vulture, Egyptian vulture and lammergeier separate from the others. Most authorities refer to two major clades: Gypaetinae (the aforementioned species, complemented with the Madagascan serpent eagle) and Aegypiinae (Aegypius, Gyps, Sarcogyps, Torgos, Trigonoceps and possibly Necrosyrtes). The former seem to be nested with Perninae hawks, while the latter are closely related and possibly even synonymous with Aquilinae. Within Aegypiinae, Torgos, Aegypius, Sarcogyps and Trigonoceps are particularly closely related and possibly within the same genus. 
Both Old World and New World vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight. A particular characteristic of many vultures is a semi-bald head, sometimes without feathers or with simple down. Historically, it was thought that this was due to feeding habits, as feathers would be glued with decaying flesh and blood. However, more recent studies have shown that it is actually a thermoregulatory adaptation to avoid facial overheating; the presence or absence of complex feathers seems to matter little in feeding habits, as some vultures are quite raptorial. 
- Lammergeier or bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus
- Palm-nut vulture, Gypohierax angolensis
- Egyptian vulture, Neophron percnopterus
- Griffon vulture, Gyps fulvus
- White-rumped vulture, Gyps bengalensis
- Rüppell's vulture, Gyps rueppelli
- Indian vulture, Gyps indicus
- Slender-billed vulture, Gyps tenuirostris
- Himalayan vulture, Gyps himalayensis
- White-backed vulture, Gyps africanus
- Cape vulture, Gyps coprotheres
- Hooded vulture, Necrosyrtes monachus
- Red-headed vulture, Sarcogyps calvus
- Lappet-faced vulture, Torgos tracheliotus
- White-headed vulture, Trigonoceps occipitalis
Threat due to diclofenac poisoning
Diclofenac poisoning has caused the vulture population in India and Pakistan to decline by up to 99% in the past decade, and two or three species of vulture in South Asia are nearing extinction. This has been caused by the practice of medicating working farm animals with diclofenac, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with anti-inflammatory and pain killing actions. Diclofenac administration keeps animals that are ill or in pain working on the land for longer, but, if the ill animals die, their carcasses contain diclofenac. Farmers leave the dead animals out in the open, relying on vultures to tidy up. Diclofenac present in carcass flesh is eaten by vultures, which are sensitive to diclofenac, and they suffer kidney failure, visceral gout, and death as a result of diclofenac poisoning.
The decline in vultures has led to hygiene problems in India as carcasses of dead animals now tend to rot, or be eaten by rats or wild dogs, rather than be consumed by vultures. Rabies among these other scavengers is a major health threat. India has one of the world's highest incidences of rabies.
The decline in vultures causes particular problems for certain communities, such as the Parsi, who practice sky burials, where the human dead are put on the top of a Tower of Silence and are eaten by vultures, leaving only dry bones.
Meloxicam (another NSAID) has been found to be harmless to vultures and should prove an acceptable alternative to diclofenac. The Government of India banned diclofenac, but over a year later, in 2007, it continued to be sold and is still a problem in other parts of the world.
A project named "Vulture Restaurant" is underway in Nepal in an effort to conserve the dwindling number of vultures. The "restaurant" is an open grassy area where naturally dying, sick, and old cows are fed to the vultures.
- Lerner & Mindell 2005.
- (Griffiths et al. 2007, Lerner and Mindell 2005)
- Mundy, P. et al. 1992. The Vultures of Africa, Academic Press.
- Wilber, S. & Jackson, J. 1983. Vulture Biology and Management, University of California
- (Ward et al. 2008)
- "AnimalDiversityWeb: Aegypius: Classification". AnimalDiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- "Painkillers turned bird killers". New Scientist (2577): p7. 2006-11-14.
- Di Quinzio & McCarthy 2008.
- Haviland, Charles (2008-07-31). "Nepal's 'restaurant' for vultures". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- A vulture restaurant in South Africa Archived December 27, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Di Quinzio, M.; McCarthy, A. (2008-02-26). "Rabies risk among travellers". CMAJ 178 (5): 567. doi:10.1503/cmaj.071443.
- Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, and Philip Burton. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7. Retrieved 2011-05-26.
- Grimmett, Richard; Inskipp, Carol; Inskipp, Tim (1999). Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Illustrated by Clive Byers et al. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-04910-6. OCLC 43578307.
- Lerner, Heather R. L.; Mindell, David P. (November 2005). "Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.04.010. ISSN 1055-7903. PMID 15925523. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
- Sinclair, Ian; Hockey, Phil; Tarboton, Warwick (2002). SASOL Birds of Southern Africa. Illustrated by Peter Hayman & Norman Arlott (3rd ed.). Cape Town: Struik. ISBN 978-1-86872-721-6.
- "Bird groups hopeful on vultures". London: BBC News. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Gentleman, Amelia (2006-03-28). "India's Vultures Fall Prey to a Drug in the Cattle They Feed On". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Nair, Preetu (2009-05-09). "Rare breed of vulture spotted in Goa after eight years". Times Of India. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
- Vulture videos on the Internet Bird Collection
- videos, photographs and resources on Indian birds
- A griffon vulture nest on the Web