What a relief! The vultures are back – Indiatimes.com

Chennai News

By: S Paulraj
CHENNAI: When I visited the Mavanella forest area of Mudumalai recently, a number of touring jeeps went through the busy public road crossing the forest, to observe the larger wildlife. But that was not what caught my attention. It was the foul smell from the surrounding area and a hunted carcass of a deer nearby.
I anticipated a wild predator coming to eat the carcass. But to my surprise and sheer delight, I found a wake of vultures stationed on nearby treetops waiting to prey upon the carcass. For me, it was the best sighting of the day, a welcome spectacle because it was a clear indication of a stabilised natural ecosystem with a complete food chain recovery.
The sight reminded me of a day, 20 years ago, when I was in the same region as the wildlife warden. I saw the corpses of a tiger, two hyenas, several vultures, and a few crows in an area where the carcass of a cow was located. The farm owner had applied a deadly insecticide to the cattle to keep predators such as tigers away.
It was what had resulted in all the animal deaths. Such incidents were common at the time. Those man-animal conflicts disordered the natural food chain in the terrestrial ecosystem of Mudumalai. The absence of major scavengers such as hyenas and vultures led to delayed disposal of carrion which in turn was responsible for the growth and spread of pathogens in the surrounding environment.
When you look at the beauty and balance of nature, scavengers may not be the first to come to mind. By eating carrion, scavengers remove dead carcasses from the environment which otherwise would remain a storehouse of toxins during the process of slow decay.
A valuable service that goes well beyond environmental aesthetics! Vultures, as the largest major avian scavengers, by exclusively and rapidly consuming carrion, remove carcasses from the environment. Their stomachs contain an incredibly potent acid that destroys many of the harmful substances found in dead animals.
Efforts by the forest department in recent years such as strengthening and modernising the protection system, ensuring man-wildlife coexistence, and abolishing the use of diclofenac for cattle, have helped bring back the vulture population in the area. Additional conservation measures such as the formation of a state-level vulture conservation committee by the TN government will go a long way in keeping a sustained population of this species and ensuring a viable food chain.
According to Professor B Ramakrishnan, a member of this committee, there has been an increase in the vulture population over the past decade, from 50 to 120 within the Mudumalai vulture habitat. This increase is a healthy trend considering the low re – productive potential of the species (laying and brooding only one egg per year), said Ramakrishnan.
(The writer is a retired IFS Officer and former Wildlife Warden of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary)
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