South Asia's Vultures Dying
From Mystery Illness
From Patricia Doyle, PhD

Hello, Jeff - I know that many people will not be interested in the following article as Vultures are not the warmest of creatures and loved by humans. What people must realize is that Vultures, like all of God's creatures, have their place on the planet and serve a very important purpose, especially in rural areas of India and other parts of South Asia. Due to the loss of Vultures, wild dog populations are on the rise. This has increased rabies virus outbreaks and caused more human cases.
Another problem is going to be the spread of disease as the vultures are not going to be around and won't be scavaging and "cleaning" up the environment. This will lead to increases in disease outbreaks.
A vulture may not be our favorite creature, but they are sorely needed on the planet. They may turn out to be our "miner's canary" fortelling higher animals fate.
There needs to be a balance of nature and when one species disappears, the balance shifts and serious consequences might result.
Patricia Doyle
New Lab To Tackle Mystery Of Vanishing Vultures
From ProMED-mail Source - New Scientist, 2-11-03 (edited) Byline: Debora MacKenzie
A new laboratory has opened in India dedicated to identifying the mystery disease that is exterminating South Asia's vultures. But the die-off is now so bad that scientists fear they will have to try breeding at least one species in captivity to save it from extinction, even before they diagnose the killer infection.
The big griffon vultures that used to be ubiquitous in India started dying off in the 1990s. In 2000 New Scientist reported that 95 percent of Indian vultures of the genus Gyps had disappeared. Since then, the remaining population has halved, and the die-off has spread to Nepal and Pakistan.
Scientists fear the disease could spread to griffon vultures across Eurasia and Africa. "The ecological impacts could be horrendous," says Deborah Pain at the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
It is already horrendous in India. Griffon vultures were the main way in which dead animals were disposed off. Now, says Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London, "the superabundance of uneaten animal carcasses poses a direct health threat and has led to an explosion in the stray dog population." These dogs carry diseases including rabies.
The cause of the deadly disease is still unknown, though suspicion centres on a virus. But it has been impossible to investigate fully. This is partly because collecting sick or dead birds is extremely difficult, and partly because Indian law prevents the export of tissue samples for study in foreign laboratories, although some samples have been allowed to go to Australia.
New hope has come with the opening of the Vulture Care Centre near Chandigarh, north of New Delhi, on 7 Feb 2003. It is funded by a grant from the UK's Darwin Initiative to scientists from the Zoological Society of London, the The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Bombay Natural History Society.
"The main purpose of the centre is to find out what is killing the vultures and whether anything can be done to make affected birds recover," says Cunningham. The UK division of Synermed, a diagnostics company, has donated an automated blood analyser to help track the disease process, determine which organs it damages, and gauge the effect of treatments.
"Even doing the basic veterinary work is quite a step forward," Cunningham told New Scientist. If the disease is identified and birds can be tested to ensure they are healthy, the centre will be converted to a captive breeding facility to help the population recover.
But Cunningham warns that the Darwin funding runs out in 2004. Furthermore, one of the 3 species at risk, _Gyps tenuirostris_, which is unique to the Indian subcontinent, is now down to a few hundred birds, and faces extinction.
The opening of the Vulture Care Centre seems to be a promising step in the efforts to control the vulture die-off. Details on the Darwin Initiative's project have been included in ProMED-mail's posting "Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal (04) 20021018.5590".- Mod.AS
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message board at: Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa Go with God and in Good Health



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