Humanity In Peril Sans Nature’s Scavengers

Saturday, 05 December 2020



Humanity In Peril Sans Nature’s Scavengers

Nili Daimary | October 26, 2019 12:38 hrs

The northeast forms a complex geomorphology with vast flood plains, valleys, hills and ridges of varying elevations, wetlands and swamp areas with presence of a large number of avifaunal diversity. The mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries have been serving as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds ever since history to the present day. Years back, before urbanization of towns and cities sprawled in the states of northeast, villages had the privilege to observe huge flocks of birds which are now considered to be as some of the rarest bird species on the planet and are vulnerable to getting endangered.

With the rapid growth of urban sprawl in the northeast region of India, geographical prospects of lands have been drastically changing, with the emergence of small towns and cities leading to clearance of forests, terrestrial grasslands, swamps and wetlands leading to climate change. 

Modernization and development of towns and cities might have brought revolutionary changes and made living a lot easier. But at the same time it is also leading to disappearance of the threatened species, the Greater Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos dubius) also known as Hargila in Assamese, which was once found abundantly in large numbers in the state of Assam, Cambodia and some parts of Southeast Asia.

Sources claim that the five-foot-tall birds with military bearing have disappeared from most of these countries, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of “Nature’s Red list of Threatened Species” estimates that a population between 1200 and 1800 survive with a number of only 226 of these birds remaining in the state of Assam.  Once loathed and described as a prodigy of “ugliness,” the Greater Adjutant Storks now happen to be the pride and vanity of the state of Assam.

Assam is also a host to six endangered species of vultures of which 99% of the population of three of the already endangered bird species belonging to the scavenging family, the white-backed vulture, slender-billed vulture and king vulture have already been lost and disappeared from the wild; the remaining which are also on the verge of extinction. The primary culprit identified for drastic decline of vultures was identified as the diclofenac – a veterinary NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) – which is used as painkiller in cattle.

Almost three to four decades back, the vulture species were still found in plenty near towns, villages, open areas and scrubby jungles having their population scattered amid tall trees. Today these scavenging birds are hardly seen at the places where they were seen in large numbers.

Being nature’s most efficient scavengers, vultures help in the disposition of carcasses when animals die by consuming them. They also have the ability to digest disease-causing bacteria in rotting flesh. They help earth’s nutrient to cycle by releasing the organic matter to the soil. Vultures have an important role to play in the ecosystem preventing outbreaks and limiting the spread of infectious diseases like anthrax, foot and mouth disease and rabies that can be transmitted from animal to animal or animals to humans. The survival of vulture is crucial to the health of the planet and survival of all life on earth.

As carrion eaters the scavenging bird species like the Greater Adjutant Stork and Vultures play a significant role in keeping the environment clean and are an important part and parcel of the ecosystem. Each species of living organism plays a unique role in the ecosystem. The health of an ecosystem is maintained by its plants and animals. When species become endangered, it is a sign of an ecosystem’s imbalance. This balance is difficult to maintain: the loss of one species often triggers the loss of others. When ecosystems fail, it is our own health which is at risk.  Any threat to bio-diversity possesses immense threat to the survival and, well being of mankind. As individuals we can make a difference by learning about and raising awareness about the endangered species in our area, and across the world. However, a sustainable way to do that is to get involved as volunteers, partnering with governments and organizations on existing projects.

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