Indian Vulture

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Common Name: Indian or Long-billed Vulture
Scientific Name: Gyps indicus

Size: 31-41 inches (80-103 cm); Wingspan: 77-92 inches (196-238 cm)

Habitat: Asia; south-east Pakistan and peninsular India south of the Gangetic plain, north to Delhi, east through Madhya Pradesh, south to the Nilgiris, and occasionally further south.

It is found in cities, towns and villages near cultivated areas, and in open and wooded areas.

Status: Critically Endangered. Global Population: 45,00 mature individuals. Survey results indicate that declines throughout the Indian Subcontinent probably began in the 1990s and were extremely rapid, resulting in an overall population decline of greater than 97% over a 10-15 year period.

By mid-2000, Gyps vultures were being found dead and dying in Pakistan and throughout India, and major declines and local extirpations were being reported. The anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, used to treat domestic livestock, has been identified as the cause of mortality, with renal failure resulting in visceral gout in the vast majority of examined vultures. Modeling has shown that to cause the observed rate of decline in the species just one in 760 livestock carcasses need contain diclofenac residues. Despite awareness programs to educate locals about the association between diclofenac and vulture mortality, a survey in Nepal indicated that the vast majority of people still do not link diclofenac use to a decline in vulture populations, potentially leading to a slower uptake of meloxicam (a safe alternative). A second veterinary drug in use in India, ketoprofen, has also recently been identified to be lethal to the species, and measurements of residue levels in ungulate carcasses in India indicates that concentrations are sufficient to cause vulture mortalities. Other likely contributory factors are changes in human consumption and processing of dead livestock (which have occurred in response to the collapse in vulture numbers), poison and pesticide use, and possibly avian malaria, but these are probably of minor significance.

It has been reported from many protected areas across its range. The Indian government has now passed a bill banning the manufacture of the veterinary drug diclofenac that has caused the rapid population decline across the Indian subcontinent; their aim was to phase out its use by late 2005, although its sale has not been banned and it is likely to remain in widespread use for several years. Similar laws banning import and manufacture of diclofenac are now in place in Nepal and Pakistan. A letter from the Drug Controller General of India in 2008 warned more than 70 drugs firms not to sell the veterinary form of diclofenac, and to mark human diclofenac containers 'not for veterinary use'. In October 2010, the government of Bangladesh banned the production of diclofenac for use in cattle, and the distribution and sale of the drug were due to be outlawed there during the first half of 2011. Efforts to replace diclofenac with a suitable alternative are ongoing; drug companies have now developed meloxicam, an alternative to diclofenac, which has been tested on Gyps vultures with no ill-effects. The Report of the International South Asian Vulture Recovery Plan Workshop in 2004 gave a comprehensive list of recommendations including establishing a minimum of three captive breeding centers each capable of holding 25 pairs (Bombay Natural History Society 2004) - ultimately at least 150 pairs of the three species should be held in captivity to ensure sufficient birds are available to re-establish wild colonies in the future. Captive breeding efforts are ongoing and during 2008-2009 there were 71 individuals in captivity at two captive breeding centers in India. In 2009, captive birds laid eggs, raising hopes that they will successfully breed in captivity in the near future.

Diet: Wide variety of carrion. This species feeds almost entirely on carrion, and often associates with White-rumped Vulture G. bengalensis when scavenging at rubbish dumps and slaughterhouses.

Nesting: Robust, strong features giving eagle-like bearing. Perched adults have pale-yellowish bill and cere; pale eyerings; large white neck-ruff; and buff back and upperwing coverts. The stout blackish neck has pale down. Juveniles have dark bill with pale culmen; pinkish head and neck covered in pale down and dingy heavily streaked underparts. In flight thighs are heavily feathered and concolourous with the rest of the underparts.

It nests almost exclusively in colonies on cliffs and ruins in central and peninsular India, although in one area, where cliffs are absent, it has been reported nesting in trees.

Cool Facts: The Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus) is closely related to the Griffon Vulture (G. fulvus). The birds in the northern part of its range once considered a subspecies are now considered a separate species, the Slender-billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris). These were lumped together under the name Long-billed Vulture.

Vultures also play a key role in the wider landscape as providers of ecosystem services, and were previously heavily relied upon to help dispose of animal and human remains in India.


Found in Songbird Remix Vultures2

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