Cultural and health impacts of the crisis
In India, vultures have traditionally disposed of carcasses in cities, villages and the countryside, reducing the risk of disease and helping with sanitation. With the vultures gone, carcasses are likely to take much longer to be stripped, increasing the risk to health. Feral dogs are filling the scavenging void, and their growing numbers also increase risks to human health and safety: they are carriers of rabies.
The birds play a part in the funerary rites of some religious groups, including the Parsees in India: bodies are exposed to be stripped by vultures. In some parts of the country vultures are now so scarce that cremation is being used as an alternative to this traditional celestial burial.
The discovery that a drug is responsible for the declines offers some hope for the vultures, but also serves as a wider warning of the risks that pharmaceuticals can pose to wildlife and human populations.
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