Back in January, I blogged about how and why the south Asian white-backed vulture is on its way to extinction: a medicine called diclofenac, given to cows in India, is so toxic to vultures that a few bites from a dead cow will kill the vulture. In just a few years, vultures have gone from ubiquitous to nearly extinct. Some scientists have started captive breeding programs to save the species, in the hope of releasing them to the wild in the future. (Diclofenac is officially banned but is still being made and used).
Unfortunately, a new study, reported in ScienceDaily, says the genetic diversity in the captive birds may not be enough. They need to catch more birds.
The Science Daily article says:
While the death of an unattractive bird that scavenges for a living may not sound like a great loss, vultures have important cultural and religious significance in south Asia. The ancient Parsi religion holds earth, fire and water sacred, and to avoid contaminating them, the Parsis dispose of their dead by placing them on “Towers of Silence,” where vultures consume the remains. In addition, the vulture saint Jatayu is an important figure in Hindu religion. The absence of vultures poses a direct threat to public health as well, as uneaten livestock carcasses provide breeding grounds for bacteria and attract feral dogs, which may spread rabies and other diseases.