odd animal profile: pondicherry vulture

This post comes from the heart. The tale of the Pondicherry vulture is not a happy one. Once a species that numbered in the hundreds of thousands in less that 20 years the population has dropped to less than 10,000. This isn’t due to the common causing like poaching or nuisance killing, but is actually caused by a medication given to cattle that is toxic to vultures. When the cattle die and the vultures eat the cattle, they die. The Pondicherry vulture’s population has halved every other year.

Photo from Planet of Birds
Photo from Planet of Birds

The Pondicherry vulture is also called the red-headed vulture, the Asian king vulture or the Indian black vulture. This vulture is found mostly in India, but there are declining scattered populations throughout South East Asia. This is a large vulture with an 8 foot wingspan. It also has two very characteristic lappets on either side of its face. These lappets are found on both males and females. The way to tell the males and females apart is by the eyes. Male’s have white to yellow eyes, where females have very dark eyes. I had never known this, and find it pretty interesting. You don’t find to many species whose only sexual dimorphism is eye color! The courtship between two Pondicherry vultures consists of a dazzling display of airborne acrobatics. The males and females with spin and twist through the air together in a display before mating.

Photo from Arkive
Photo from Arkive

The drug that is given to cattle is called NSAID Diclofenac. Diclofenac works as an anti-inflammatory, fever reducer and provides minor pain relief and it is very commonly used throughout Asia. When cows that have been treated with Diclofenac are eaten by vultures they get renal failure and die. This is not just Pondicherry vultures, but all Asiatic vulture species. All vultures combined have decreased about 99% in population in 2008. 2008 was five years ago. The vulture population had decreased by 99% five years ago. Where do you think it’s at now? These vultures were fine, and now they’re critically endangered, because people refuse switch medications. There are alternatives to Diclofenac that are harmless to vultures, so spread the word. End the pointless deaths of Asiatic vultures.

Brahma at the Palm Beach Zoo, Photo by Cassie Klein
Brahma at the Palm Beach Zoo, Photo by Cassie Klein

There are not many Pondicherry vultures in captivity, in fact, there is only one in North America and his name is Brahma. Brahma has so much personality and during my internship at the Palm Beach Zoo I got the opportunity to watch him work with the trainers I was learning from. It was an incredible process to see him go from a bird who would attack anyone, except a single trainer, who would try to crate him to a bird who could follow a trainer around the zoo and just walk past people without attacking anyone! Thats basically a BFD. If you read my post about Le Menagerie you might have read that I met Brahma’s parents. I was very excited, to say the least. I might have dragged my mother and cousin through the entire zoo while it was freezing and raining.

Pondicherry Vultures at Le Menagerie
Pondicherry Vultures at Le Menagerie
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