Arulagam Foundation Instagram video shines a light on why the much-maligned vultures are vital for infection control in our ecosystem

Did you know that our feathered friends could be our allies in mitigating the spread of diseases that could otherwise infect other animals, including livestock and humans? An Instagram post from the Arulagam Foundation (@Arulagam), an NGO that works with the conservation of vultures in the Nilgiris biosphere has put together a short video that explains why vultures are conservationists.

“The human race has encountered many viruses like COVID-19,” says S Bharathidasan, founder of Arulagam, adding, “As the video shows, our rich biodiversity plays a huge role in controlling germs. Among the many organisms, vultures, as feeders of carcasses, play an important role. While there is no direct relationship between vultures and COVID-19, it is high time that we realize their importance and protect them. Scavenging birds hold the key to a natural infection control mechanism. “

Often vilified for their appearance and foraging behavior, vultures are the scavengers that do the job of cleaning up and keeping the ecosystem healthy.

“The beauty is, even though they feed on infected carcasses, vultures are not infected. The acids in their stomachs are strong enough to kill the pathogen. Thus, the chain of infection is broken. It invisibly controls the spread of harmful pathogens causing deadly anthrax, cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, rabies and distemper, ”says Bharathidasan. Birds also prevent contamination of water sources, especially in nature. When animals die near a water point, there is an imminent danger of contamination leading to rapid spread of infections and massive death. But the vultures devour the entire carcasses, thus avoiding a tragic accident. Despite this, their importance in the ecosystem is not understood, he notes.

Egyptian vulture

“In India, we have nine species [of vultures]», Explains H Byju, who explains why these birds are essential to biodiversity in his book Valley of Hope – Moyar and Vultures (Don Books). Photographer, independent researcher and environmentalist, he adds that in Tamil Nadu, we can see the long-billed vulture (Indian vulture), the red-headed vulture, the white-rumped vulture and the Egyptian vulture at Moyar Gorge in the Nilgiris biosphere. of the Western Ghats. “Over the past four years, the population has grown by maybe 10 percent. One needs to learn more about the nature and purpose of recovery to understand why vultures are important.

Restoring the population is a daunting task because vultures are slow breeders, Bharathidasan says. “If they go out, there will be a huge ripple effect. Other scavengers like rats and dogs may take over, temporarily, but this leads to problems like an increased incidence of rabies. According to scientific studies, a nonsteroidal veterinary anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac given to cattle had caused a catastrophic decline in vulture species in the South Asian region. Although diclofenac is now banned, other equally harmful drugs are still used, ”he adds. Bharathidasan, however, hopes the vultures return in large numbers and circle the blue sky.