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Gypinae
230px
Cinereous Vulture
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Clade: Afroaves
Superorder: Accipitrimorphae
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Gypinae
Blyth, 1851

Old World vultures, subfamily Gypinae is a subfamily of birds in Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.

Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two groups of vultures are due to convergent evolution rather than a close relationship. They were widespread in both the Old World and North America, during the Neogene. Old World vultures are probably a polyphyletic group within Accipitridae, with Palm-nut Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Lammergeier separate from the others.[1]

Both Old World and New World vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight. A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of feathers; if vultures had head feathers, they would become spattered with blood and other fluids when the vultures ate flesh from carcasses, and thus would be difficult to keep clean.

Species


Threat due to diclofenac poisoning

Diclofenac poisoning has caused the vulture population in India and Pakistan to decline by up to 95% in the past decade, and two or three of the species of vulture in South Asia are nearing extinction.[2] This has been caused by the practice of medicating working farm animals with diclofenac, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with anti-inflammatory and pain killing actions. Diclofenac administration keeps animals that are ill or in pain working on the land for longer, but, if the ill animals die, their carcasses contain diclofenac. Farmers leave the dead animals out in the open, relying on vultures to tidy up. Diclofenac present in carcass flesh is eaten by vultures, which are sensitive to diclofenac, and they suffer kidney failure, visceral gout, and death as a result of diclofenac poisoning.

The decline in vultures has led to hygiene problems in India as carcasses of dead animals now tend to rot, or be eaten by rats or wild dogs, rather than be tidied up by vultures. Rabies among these other scavengers is a major health threat. India has one of the world's highest incidences of rabies.[3]

The decline in vultures causes particular problems for certain communities, such as the Parsi, who practice sky burials, where the human dead are put on the top of a Tower of Silence and are eaten by vultures, leaving only dry bones.

Meloxicam (another NSAID) has been found to be harmless to vultures and should prove an acceptable alternative to diclofenac.[2] The Government of India banned diclofenac, but over a year later, in 2007, it continued to be sold and is still a problem in other parts of the world.[2]

In culture

Ancient Egypt

The Egyptians considered the vulture to be an excellent mother, and the wide wingspan was seen as all-encompassing and providing a protective cover to her infants. The white Egyptian vulture was the animal picked to represent Nekhbet, the mother goddess and protective patron of southern, Upper Egypt. The vulture hieroglyph <hiero>A</hiero> was the Egyptian sign used for the sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler.

Hindu mythology

File:Ravi Varma-Ravana Sita Jathayu.jpg

In the Hindu epic Ramayana, there appear two demi-gods who had the form of vultures, Jatayu (Sanskrit: जटायू, jatāyū) and his brother Sampaati, with whom are associated stories of courage and self-sacrifice.

When young, the two used to compete as to who could fly higher. On one such instance Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get seared by sun's flames. Sampaati saved his brother by spreading his own wings and thus shielding Jatayu from the hot flames. In the process, Sampaati himself got injured and lost his wings. As a result Sampaati lived wingless for the rest of his life.

When Jatayu was old, he witnessed the beautiful Sita, wife of the god Rama, being kidnapped by Ravana. Jatayu tried to save her but was defeated and mortally wounded. When he lay dying he was still able to tell Rama and his brother Lakshmana in which direction Sita was being taken, facilitating her eventual rescue.

Tibet

In the Tibetan practice of sky burial, vultures and other birds eat human corpses.

Contemporary concepts

Although the vulture plays an important natural role, in the Western world, the image of the vulture is quite negative, with 'vulture' used as a metaphor for those who prey on the weak or dying, with associated negative connotations of cowardice and selfishness.

Conservation efforts

A project named "Vulture Restaurant" is underway in Nepal in an effort to conserve the dwindling number of vultures. The "restaurant" is an open grassy area where naturally dying, sick, and old cows are fed to the vultures.[4][5]

References

  1. ^ Lerner & Mindell 2005.
  2. ^ a b c "Painkillers turned bird killers". New Scientist (2577): p7. 2006-11-14. 
  3. ^ Di Quinzio & McCarthy 2008.
  4. ^ Haviland, Charles (2008-07-31). "Nepal's 'restaurant' for vultures". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  5. ^ A vulture restaurant in South AfricaThis link is dead.
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External links

Template:Old World vultures

Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
Wrybill This article is part of Project Bird Subfamilies, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird subfamily, including made-up families.
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