The Editorial 21 Oct, 2022 - Conserving the Vultures

21 Oct, 2022

Theme : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation

Paper : GS - 3


  1. Context
  2. Population of Vulture
  3. Situation in Tamil Nadu
  4. Role of Vulture in Ecosystem
  5. Threats to Vultures
  6. Initiatives Taken for Vultures

Context : The Tamil Nadu government formed a committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures. The State is home to four species of vultures  the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus), the Asian king vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).


Population of Vulture :

  • Absolute numbers are low: While the population of the vultures in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts has remained largely stable, experts state that the numbers are still extremely low, and that even a single poisoning event could lead to several of the species going locally extinct, especially the long-billed and Asian king vulture.
  • Fewer hatchings of vultures: Over the last few years, breeding seasons have also seen fewer hatchings than is the norm, with experts attributing the cause to lesser availability of prey as well as erratic weather.

Situation in Tamil Nadu :

  • Sighting of vultures in Nilgiris, erode and Coimbatore: While there have been reported sightings of vultures in other districts including Dharmapuri; essentially the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts are believed to form one of the largest contiguous expanses where vultures are spotted.
  • In the Tiger reserves and forest areas: Home to the nesting sites of three of the four species of vultures seen in the State, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, parts of the Nilgiris forest division and the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve are crucial strongholds for the vultures in southern India.
  • Sighting of Himalayan griffon vulture: Occasional migrants such as the Himalayan griffon vulture and the Cinereous vulture are also spotted each year.
  • Larger population of vultures in the South of Vindhya mountain range: Tamil Nadu boasts the largest population of vultures south of the Vindhya Mountain Range. In the Nilgiris, researchers and forest department officials estimate that there are between 100 and 120 white-rumped vultures, 10 and 15 long-billed vultures and less than 10 Asian king vultures.
  • Spotted at Sigur plateau: Though Egyptian vultures are spotted in the Sigur plateau, encompassing the Nilgiris and Erode districts, they are not believed to use the landscape to breed, while researchers still remain unsuccessful in tracing the breeding sites of the critically endangered Asian king vulture.

Role of Vulture in Ecosystem :

  • Removing vultures from the ecosystem leads to inefficient clearing of carcasses and contaminates water systems.
  • If dead animals are left to rot for long durations, it may give rise to disease-causing pathogens.
  • The animals that consume such flesh become further carriers of disease.
  • Thus, they play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem.

Threats to Vultures :

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Experts also agree that the use of some Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to treat cattle, such as diclofenac, nimesulide, ketoprofen among others, has led to the crash in vulture populations across India
  • Temple Tourism and increased activities around the temple: There are multiple. For one, temple tourism in the Sigur plateau is centered primarily around vulture habitats, such as Siriyur, Anaikatty and Bokkapuram. Over the last few years, there have been recorded instances of vultures abandoning nesting sites located too close to temples inside these reserves, with activists calling for strict controls on the amount of people allowed to attend these festivals.
  • Spread of invasive weeds: Another threat is the spread of invasive weeds such as the Lantana camara in vulture landscapes, which hinder the birds from scavenging as their large wingspans require plenty of open area to safely land and to take to the skies in case of any major threats.
  • Vulnerable to even natural drugs: Unfortunately, their tolerance for harmful substances does not extend to man made drugs.
  • Climate change and forest fires: Finally, due to the illegal tapping of water along the streams running through these areas, possible climate change, and forest fires, the Terminalia arjuna trees, that many vultures use as nesting sites, are disappearing.

Initiatives Taken for Vultures :

  • Banning the harmful drugs: The State government has banned the use of diclofenac, a drug, to treat cattle, while there are strict restrictions for the sale of other NSAIDs in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts.
  • Vulture census: Additionally, as the vultures in the Sigur plateau utilize landscapes in neighboring Karnataka and Kerala, experts have called for a synchronous vulture census to accurately identify vulture populations and nesting sites.


1. What is the Importance of Vultures?

Answer : Removing vultures from the ecosystem leads to inefficient clearing of carcasses and contaminates water systems.

2. Which State Govt. formed a Committee for Vulture Conservation?

Answer : The Tamil Nadu government formed a committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures.