International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from Vulture Awareness Days run by the Birds of Prey Working Group in South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, who decided to work together and expand the initiative into an international event.
It is now recognised that a co-ordinated international day will publicise the conservation of vultures to a wider audience and highlight the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists.
On September 4th 2010, the aim is for each participating organisation to carry out their own activities that highlight vulture conservation and awareness.
The website, established in July 2009, provides a central place for all participants to outline these activities and see the extent of vulture conservation across the world
I think most people know that I have had an involvement with The Hawk Conservancy Trust for about twenty years. Last year, the Trust asked me to prepare a website for International Vulture Awareness Day, which I was happy to do. An additional interactive element was added to the site by Gwendolen Tee in the Netherlands. You can find that at http://www.vultureday.org/wp.
Vultures are nature’s dustmen. Their rôle is to remove dead and decaying animal matter; a rôle that they perform with astounding efficiency and effectiveness. So effective are they that, if they eat the carcase of an animal that has died from a disease such as anthrax, rabies or the like, not only are they unaffected by it (one wouldn’t normally expect birds to be affected by a mammalian disease), but their droppings show no sign of the disease organisms.They are not, as one often hears implied, dirty animals. There is little future for a soaring bird that has feathers caked in blood – feathers only work well when clean, and vultures do work hard to keep themselves clean and airworthy.
There are 22 species of vulture worldwide; fifteen outside the Americas (termed Old World vultures) that are in the same family as eagles and hawks, and seven in the Americas (New World vultures) that are in the same family as storks and herons.
The threats to vultures come from a number of sources. In Europe it is required, for Elf’n’safety reasons, to burn or bury dead livestock, thus depriving the vultures of a food source. In some areas vulture parts are harvested for medicines or for decoration.
In south Asia, veterinary use of diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) has been reported to have led to a sharp decline in the vulture population in the Indian subcontinent, reported as 99.9% decline as of 2008. Vultures eat the carcasses of livestock which have been administered veterinary diclofenac, and are poisoned by the accumulated chemical. This use is now being phased out, but rebuilding the population – if it can be done – will take a long time. The following is extracted from Wikipedia:
“The loss of tens of millions of vultures over the last decade has had major ecological consequences across the Indian subcontinent that pose a potential threat to human health. In many places, populations of feral dogs have increased sharply from the disappearance of Gyps vultures as the main scavenger of wild and domestic ungulate carcasses. Associated with the rise in dog numbers is an increased risk of rabies” and casualties of almost 50,000 people. The Government of India cites one of those major consequences as a vulture species extinction. A major shift in transfer of corpse pathogens from vultures to feral dogs and rats can lead to a disease pandemic causing millions of deaths in a crowded country like India.
The loss of vultures has had a social impact on the Indian Zoroastrian Parsi community, who traditionally use vultures to dispose of human corpses in Towers of Silence, but are now compelled to seek alternate methods of disposal.
Vultures do an important job. The job of International Vulture Awareness Day is to bring that fact to the public consciousness.
All the vulture photographs were taken at the Hawk Conservancy Trust.
In other news, as they say, Tania arrived back from Tanzania today, having really enjoyed her trip. We welcome her back, and shall take her dogs back to her during the week.
That apart, it has been a quiet week. I have plenty of work on my web projects – that will take care of the days that are too hot or too wet for me to do what I need to do in the garden, as well as those days when I frankly cannot be bothered with anything resembling physical work.
Belgian Grand Prix this afternoon – I shall be cheering on Lewis and Jenson, with a little for Mark Webber, because he is a nice person and deserves to do well.