Published Date: 2002-10-10 23:50:00
Subject: PRO/AH> Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal: RFI
Archive Number: 20021010.5514
VULTURE DIE-OFF - INDIA, PAKISTAN, NEPAL: REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002
From: Neal E. Wilson <email@example.com>
Source: NewScientist.com's news service, 08 Oct 2002 [edited]
Mystery Indian virus heading for Europe
A mystery virus that has killed most of India's vultures could be about to
spread to Europe and Africa, researchers are warning. It could cause
ecological havoc in Africa in particular, as well as an increased risk of
diseases such as rabies and anthrax in people.
The stricken vultures include the Indian white-backed vulture, until
recently the world's most common bird of prey. They began dying in great
numbers in the mid-1990s. "You see them slumped on tree branches everywhere.
And then they just fall off, dead," says Deborah Pain of Britain's Royal
Society for the Protection of Birds.
The mystery bug has already spread to vultures in Pakistan and Nepal. But
the most alarming discovery, says Pain, is the arrival of foreign vultures
in India. They are attracted by the huge numbers of uneaten cattle carcasses
on waste dumps across the country. "This year, we have seen thousands of
migrating Eurasian vultures at a big dump in eastern India. They probably
come from the Middle East," says Pain. The species, though rarely seen in
numbers in India before, is the most migratory of all vultures.
"They could easily take the disease to Europe or Africa, infecting vultures
in France and Spain and, worse still in the Africa bush, where vultures eat
most of the dead animal carcasses," says Pain. "There will be massive
ecological impacts," she warns.
By chance, British ornithologists had carried out a vulture census in India
in 1992. When they repeated the exercise in 2000, they found a 96 percent
decline in white-backed vultures and a 92 percent decline in 2 species of
long-billed vultures, says Pain.
Indian scientists failed to find evidence of any toxins or common diseases.
Earlier in 2002, Indian authorities gave permission for foreign scientists
to take vulture carcasses out of the country for further investigation, but
research funding was delayed.
"We don't think death is caused by a toxin, partly because birds in
protected areas seem as vulnerable as those outside," says Pain. "Nor is
there any shortage of food. There are cattle carcasses everywhere."
A loss of vultures in Europe and Africa could have severe consequences, she
warns. "In India, the disappearance of vultures has caused plagues of dogs,
and that brings an increased risk of rabies for humans. Africa will get more
hyenas, too. And with dead cattle lying around longer there is an increased
risk of anthrax."
[Byline: Fred Pearce]
[Could any of our Indian colleagues or of the "foreign scientists" who,
reportedly, have been granted permission to obtain material for
investigation, add information? - Mod.AS]
[Macabre footnote: there are presently not enough vultures around the Parsee
"Towers of Silence" to dispose of that sect's dead, who are left there to be
disposed of by those birds. So an English ornithologist has been hired to
start a vulture breeding program there. - Mod.JW]