Indian vulture (Gyps indicus)

Synonyms: Vultur indicus
GenusGyps (1)
SizeLength: 92 cm (2)

The Indian vulture is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4) and on Appendix II of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (5).

A robust and scruffy scavenger, the Indian vulture has a pale yellow bill, pale eye rings and a sturdy, black neck and head, with pale down and a white neck-ruff. The feathers on the back and upperwings are brown, fading to cream on the underside. The thighs are feathered, matching the underside in colour. Juveniles have a dark bill, pinkish head and neck with pale down and brown and cream streaked undersides (2).

Found in southeast Pakistan and peninsular India (2).

The Indian vulture inhabits cities, towns and villages near cultivated areas, as well as open and wooded areas (2).

As a scavenger, the Indian vulture feeds mainly on carrion from both urban and rural landscapes. It associates with the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) when feeding at rubbish dumps and slaughterhouses (2). It nests in small colonies, usually on cliffs and ruins, but occasionally in trees. The nests are enormous, stretching two to three feet across. They are constructed from sticks and lined with green leaves and rubbish. Between mid November and early March, the female vulture lays one oval, white egg which is incubated by both parents for 50 days. Both sexes contribute to the care of the chick, bringing food and defending it. It is thought that only 50 percent of nests produce young each year (6).

In common with other Gyps species, the Indian vulture has suffered serious declines since the late 1990s, losing as much as 95 percent of the population. The unnaturally high death toll was thought to be caused by a fatal virus, but testing has revealed that vultures are suffering from kidney failure following the consumption of cattle that had previously been treated with the anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac (2). In fact, the decline is a result of a lethal level of the drug in a small proportion of the ungulate carcasses available to vultures, but as vultures travel long distances to reach carrion, a considerable proportion of the population has been affected (7). The full extent of the decline of Gyps vulture species is already being felt by humans, as rotting carcasses remain untouched, posing a health hazard, as well as encouraging feral dog populations which carry rabies (8).

It is considered necessary to prevent exposure of vultures to livestock carcasses that have been contaminated with diclofenac, and to find an alternative replacement drug (7). Government commitment to the control of the use of the drug is crucial, but until it has been entirely removed from the environment, a collaboration of bird protection organisations plan to take all vultures into captivity for the next 20 to 30 years to avoid further deaths, which would further reduce the chance of a successful recovery of this already rare species (8).

For further information on the conservation of vultures see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)