Man Now Competes with Scavengers

Man Now Competes with Scavengers

One of the classes of phylum Chordata is Aves, which includes all the birds of the world. The Class Aves is further divided into orders. Birds of 28 orders are found in the world, of which 18 are found in our sub-continent.

Man Now Competes with Scavengers

One of the classes of phylum Chordata is Aves, which includes all the birds of the world. The Class Aves is further divided into orders. Birds of 28 orders are found in the world, of which 18 are found in our sub-continent.

One of the Orders of Class Aves is Falconiformes, which includes all the raptors of the world. In all 286 species of raptors are found in the world and it is to our pride that our sub-continent harbours 104 species and sub-species of the birds of prey.

Most of the raptors prey upon other birds and animals so they are superb flyers. They have powerful hooked beaks and sharp talons. One of the families of the Order Falconiformes is Accipitridae that includes vultures. In the Indian sub-continent, eight species and three sub-species of vultures are found. Though vultures are classed as raptors, they don’t prey on live animals.

They depend on dead animals. Apart from the Lemergiers, which can eat bones of dead animals, other vultures of our country are flesh eaters. The sense of smell is generally weak in birds, but certainly it is present in a poorly developed form. The sense of smell in vultures too is very weak. They detect their food with the help of eyes only. Their sight is very sharp. Their eyes are seated near the front of the head so as to increase the field of binocular vision.

Visual impulses from vultures’ eyes are transmitted via optic nerves and are interpreted by the well-developed optic lobes of nerves situated in the hind brain.

As they depend upon dead animals they have to go far and wide from their roosting places in search of food. This leads them to remain aloft high in the sky for a very long time. The manner in which any bird flies can be classified in one of the four ways: gliding, soaring, flapping and hovering. Each bird species specializes in that type of flight that is best suited to its feeding habits.

Vultures are masters in soaring. Soaring vultures incline their head downwards at a narrow angle and with flapping increase their speed and glide into upward moving air current. A soaring vulture can, by subtle movements of its body and wings, fly on horizontal plane or gain height and with very little effort remain in the air for hours at a time.

A bird coming to land is an animal undergoing a major transformation. An airborne creature in this process changes into a land animal. A bird’s body is equipped for this sudden change. The landing process involves the utilization of appendages, bones and muscles that have evolved specially to facilitate the transformation and to support bird’s weight and movements when it is not in the air.

The invention of heavy-bodied aeroplanes goes to the credit of vultures. The major hurdle in the invention of large planes was how to overcome the stall. Vultures are heavy bodied birds and they easily land on a very short runway.

By studying the vultures landing in slow motion, scientists were able to know the complex manoeuvring of its wing movements. They designed the aircraft accordingly to overcome the stall. The major role allotted to vultures by nature is scavenging. Future of the Vultures:

Once I was walking along a nullah in a broad ravine. The slopes of the ravine were covered with trees and by the nullah mostly big trees stood – Arjun, Jamun, Gooler etc. The place was far from habitation. The sun was at its zenith.

Suddenly a man descended from a big tree and dashed towards me. A thought flashed through my mind that the man must have been chased by some wild beast and so was forced to climb the tree and now wants my help. The fellow knelt down, begging me to kill the vulture perched on the tree. It was the most surprising request; something that I had never dreamt of.

I asked him why he wanted me to kill the vulture. The person told me that he wanted to eat its flesh. Whether that fellow was extremely hungry or mentally derailed I could not know. But this is the only instance I know about the consumption of the flesh of vultures. This incident occurred during late fifties. Wherever vultures are found in the world they are spared by man. Even tribes of remote places, where cannibalism was practiced in the past used to spare the vultures.

The magnitude of the services rendered by this creature to man, since man’s walk on this planet from its evolution till date is so colossal that it pricks the conscience of man, whenever he thinks of molesting this creature. Religions too play a key role in checking the molestation of these creatures.

During epidemics when animals, domestic as well as wild, die in thousands, vultures play a major role in disposing off the carcasses and within a very short time leave behind nothing but glistening bones.

During battles in the past when evacuation of casualties and the dead was not so adequate, these creatures played a major role in wiping out the evidence of the callousness of man from the battlefields. At times they also have had a lingering impact on the minds of monarchs and nobles as was evident from the battle of Kalinga. King Ashoka was moved by the sight of the devastated battlefield with quarrelling vultures over human corpses which led to an immediate change of heart.

During partition of India lacks of innocent people were killed on both sides of the border. On the western side a mute evidence of this one of the darkest and shameful phases of the history of the sub-continent was the heavily gorged vultures which fed on nothing but the human corpses.

Our cities and villages were kept clean by these birds. As soon as any animal or bird died and was thrown in the open, vultures devoured the fleshy part of the creature’s body in no time. In the absence of these birds the carcasses would have rotten for several days, fouling the air full of harmful microbes which could have led to the spread of some epidemics or diseases increasing human misery.

These birds help us by checking the spread of countless epidemics and diseases. They keep our environment clean by devouring rotten, putrefied and diseased carcasses.

Eight species of vultures are found in the Indian sub-continent. They are King Vulture, Scavenger Vulture, Lamergeir, Cenerous Vulture and four species of Griffons. Out of the four species of Griffons, the White-backed and Long-billed Vultures are very common. Vultures have a very poor power of smell. It has been proved beyond doubt that they detect dead animals by sight only. Their sight is very keen. Compared to other raptors they don’t attack live animals that are barely breathing.

They do not touch them unless life has ebbed away from the dying animal. Sometimes they have to wait for hours, gathered near the dying animals. Some other birds, especially crows are often seen to be pecking at the soft part of such helpless dying creatures.

So the vulture is not a cruel raptor. Most of the people loathe them because of their unclean food and their association with dead animals and so they are thought to be unclean. But the fact is otherwise. They are neither aggressive nor cruel and are not loathsome. Especially Griffons are invariably seen to take bath in some pool of water after taking heavy meals.

In this scavenging work of the vultures, their partners of lower groups are the animals called carnivores. The role worth mentioning is played by jackal and hyenas.

When the government imposed a ban on the sale of the pelts of big cats, hide-hunters zeroed their eyes on these brutes. Jackals were mercilessly persecuted by professional hunters. Before these brutes got legal protection, their numbers were drastically reduced in our country and now they are threatened with extinction.

Indian hyenas generally feed on dead animals; they hardly kill their own prey. They are nocturnal and thus often come across carcasses of dead animals already devoid of flesh by vultures. So they chiefly have to depend upon the bones of dead creatures. Their jaws are very powerful. The jaws of a hyena are more powerful than those of a tiger.

They are capable of crushing the bones of dead animals, even their skull. After feeding on a carcass they usually lift some of the bones and carry them to their dens to be consumed at leisure. Hence they completely clean the environment near villages by consuming and lifting the bones of dead animals.

Jackals also feed on the flesh of dead animals and even clean their offal and therefore prove a great aid to the cleanliness of the atmosphere of our villages.

In the present day context when the thinking of man has gone through a complete metamorphic change, he sees every development and progress through the jaundiced eye of economic gain. He has forgotten all the obligations to these creatures. Now man is having economic clashes with these creatures.

Vultures are thought to be the foremost enemy of aviation. Birds hitting aircrafts result in the loss of millions of rupees per annum and many lives. Can we calculate the magnitude of their life giving services rendered to mankind since aeons? Other birds like kites, crows etc. are also a hazard to aviation. But vultures with their big wingspan soaring with thermal currents effortlessly for a very long time and at a very high altitude are more dangerous. To scare away these birds from airfields some measures like exploding crackers etc. around airports was mooted out by naturalists.

Now naturalists have come up with a new solution. Garbage dumping near cities having airports should be banned and primitive slaughter houses should be upgraded to modern abattoirs. This will deprive the vultures of their food thereby forcing them into the jungles. Our jungles are in a precarious condition. The population of wild animals has drastically been reduced hence forcing the big cats towards cattle lifting. Natural death of big animals nowadays in our jungles is insignificant and is not sufficient to sustain such a large population of vultures.

If the vulture population of cities is pushed to the countryside then too they will starve. Previously a dead animal in our villages was worthless. Villagers simply removed the hide of the dead animal that too very reluctantly.

Nowadays economic progress is rapidly gaining footage in our villages. A dead animal is now a prized one. Due to adequate transport facilities, animal processing plants are cropping up in villages. Whenever these factories get the news of any dead animal by their employed informers, they send their vehicles and lift the carcass for processing.

Its hooves and horns are removed and are used for different purposes, its fat is separated, its bones are used to prepare some chemicals and now experiments are being conducted to utilize the sterilized flesh of dead animals for animal food and other purposes. The vultures of the countryside are already hard pressed for food and if we force the birds of the cities into these areas one can very well imagine what will happen to them.

From the above facts the future of vultures and their associates is plainly visible. The day is not very far when we will have starved these creatures to extinction and it will be yet another feather on the cap of man who will have succeeded in inventing a completely new method to decimate a few of the most faithful species which served mankind for aeons, a catastrophe not dreamed of even by nature.

Jatayu once crashed against ‘Pushpak Viman’ to save Sita from being abducted by Ravana and laid down its own life. Once again Jatayu faces the ‘Pushpak Viman’. Once more a war is being waged. Let us hope Jatayu comes out the victor.

Published in the book Environmental Ruin: The Crisis of Survival: The Book Environmental Ruin: The Crisis of Survival edited by R. M. Lodha (1993). Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi.

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