The White rumped vulture, Gyps bengalensis. Image by Umang Dutt, shared under the Creative Commons License.
Aatish Bhatia in his new blog, Empirical Zeal:
Indians today can hardly recall the last time that they saw a vulture. In the 1990s, these majestic birds were a common sight in the subcontinent, and would show up wherever there was exposed carrion. As a child, I remember marveling at vultures circling at impressive heights, probably looking back down at me with their incredible eyesight, their wings outstretched as they effortlessly hovered on columns of warm air.
But since the nineties, their numbers have been falling dramatically in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The scale is astonishing – for every thousand white-rumped vultures in 1990, only one is alive today. A similarly sad story holds for the Indian vulture and the slender-billed vulture. Together, all three Asian vultures are now listed as being critically endangered.
So what’s going on? It’s not that they are being hunted. For one thing, the killing of all wild animals in banned in India. But also, vultures have always provided a much valued ecological service. Most villagers dispose of dead animals by dumping the carrion. And they rely on the vultures to clean up.
Vultures have an undeservedly bad reputation. Because we associate carrion with disease, people believed that vultures spread diseases. But in fact, we now know that the opposite is true. Their powerfully corrosive stomach acids allow them to safely digest carrion that would be lethal to other scavengers, wiping out bacteria that can cause diseases like botulism and anthrax. They are the purgers of death and disease. More:
In The Independent: There have been claims the young wizard has promoted witchcraft, that his creator has made millions of pounds from ordinary prose and even unfounded allegations that she may have committed plagiarism.
But perhaps one of the most unlikely allegations was made this week by India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who suggested Harry Potter may be at least partly responsible for the decline of the country’s owl population. More here:
In the Hindustan Times, wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar finds a glimmer of hope
Twenty-four years ago when the Year of the Tiger dawned in the Chinese calendar, wildlife conservationists were euphoric. We were seeing the fruits of the Indira Gandhi era: tiger populations were up and in Ranthambhore, I remember seeing 16 different tigers in one day. We seldom thought of the severe threats that tigers might face in the future.
In 1998, when another Year of the Tiger dawned, it was as if we were living in another world. Tigers were dying and our wildlife landscape was besieged with problems. The decade of the ’90s was probably one of the worst years for those dealing with wildlife. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) created endless crisis committees to deal with the crisis but all in vain. Before the end of the century many of us offered new ideas to the government — one of these was about creating a new department of forest and wildlife within the MoEF, a stepping stone for a dedicated ministry of forest and wildlife. more
From the Telegraph, Calcutta:
The Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), found only in Northeast India and Bhutan, is threatened by hunting and the destruction of its forested habitat. It is on the list of endangered species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and on Schedule 1 (completely protected species) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India. Which is why any method of protection of the species is well worth looking into.
As the sound of the langurs moving through the vegetation died down, Kartik appeared. He had been tracking the troop since early morning, partly to help us locate it, and partly to continue his observations of langur feeding behaviour as part of a scientific study that Nature’s Foster is conducting. He is one of the 12 local youths trained in such research, which they combine with their own considerable local knowledge to good effect.
Kartik is one of several villagers passionately involved in protecting the langurs and their habitat. Theirs is a story that is familiar to anyone working on community-based conservation in India. The forests of the Kakoijana hill range, once thick and diverse, had been decimated by a combination of factors. More:
[Image: Tourism Council of Bhutan]