Have you ever smelled a dead animal rotting in the summer heat? Even if you don’t know where the smell is located you give it a wide berth.
Humans eat dead things but we can’t eat spoiled dead things. In the 200,000 years of our species existence those who were not repulsed by or could not smell rotting food did not live long. Refusing to touch spoiled meat is a life-saving trait.
Sadly vultures get a bad name for removing the very things we can’t afford to touch. “Eeeww,” we think, “that bird is eating something vile.” But it’s actually a good thing that they do this.
Vultures are nature’s clean up crew. They can safely eat rabid and anthrax-infected carcasses because their stomach acids kill the deadly toxins, removing them from the environment.
What would happen if there weren’t any vultures? India knows what it’s like.
99.9% of the vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal died off in the last 25 years due to diclofenac, a painkiller given to cattle that’s deadly to vultures. Since then rotting carcasses have infected drinking water and the rat and wild dog populations have soared. However, unlike vultures the mammal scavengers contract rabies, anthrax and plague from the carcasses they eat and then spread the diseases to humans. 30,000 people now die of rabies in India each year.
Thankfully our vultures are alive and well in North America and tomorrow’s a good day to learn about them. Saturday Sept 2, 2017 is International Vulture Awareness Day.
Click this link for a list of activities planned around the world including a celebration hosted by the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia at Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia. Stop by the parking lot/pavilions near the Gift shop to join the fun.
Thank a vulture this weekend!
(photo by Chuck Tague)