Hugely misunderstood, vultures are gentle friends of the environment

Not long ago, we took pride in hunting birds and animals, and it led to the extinction of various species. Now we are slowly turning back the tide through conservation

The disruption of the food chain caused by hunting of animals has pushed the vulture, a misunderstood creature, to the brink of extinction across the world

Vultures perform an important function. By consuming dead animals afflicted by diphtheria, foot-and-mouth disease, diarrhoea etc, they stop the spread of disease

The vulture flies to such great heights that you can’t see it from the ground. Yet, when it detects a carcass, it swoops down in a flash, with its flock, to feast on it

In a few hours, vultures clean up the area by eating up all that is there to eat, right down to the thinnest piece of flesh, leaving only the bare bones, and then fly away

This was how things were till 40 years ago. Today, it’s rare to spot a vulture. The bird that helped maintain ecological balance for ages is almost extinct

The name vulture denotes a brute, but in reality, it is a tame creature. Vultures are known as scavengers, but ‘protector’ is a word more suited to the benevolent bird

Vultures are such gentle creatures that children would touch and feel them, even hug them, and the bird would show no signs of distress or perturbation

It would patiently and peacefully eat its food and then fly away. We are now denied the opportunity to see this bird endowed with such rare qualities

Nowadays, many attempts are being made to save the vulture. Arulagam in Coimbatore has been making intense efforts toward vulture conservation

Those interested in conservation can check out the book In Search of Vultures by  S Bharathidasan of Arulagam who has compiled all his experiences and observations

The main reason for vultures going nearly extinct in India is the use of Diclofenac as a painkiller for cattle. But alternative drugs like Ketoprofen are also harmful

Arulagam estimates there are some 300 vultures now in Tamil Nadu. The vulture is classified as critically endangered species

There are 23 types of vultures all over the world, nine in India — four in Tamil Nadu alone. These big birds are found in all continents barring Australia and Antarctica

What can humans do to save vultures? The least we can do is to leave dead cattle outside villages to feed vultures, instead of burying or burning the carcasses