Fatal side-effects

White-rumped VultureIt is not just the gharial that suffers. The white-rumped vulture feels the pain too…

Hi Friends,

“The Case of the CC” sent me into a deep depression.

Bless the Dead. May they Rest in Peace.

We too are being poisoned! Though I must admit, no one is guilty of murder. If anyone is to blame, it ought to be a drug named diclofenac. It is an anti-inflammatory medication for cattle.

You are puzzled. You wish to know how a painkiller for cows should make us drop dead from the skies.

Ah, yes! I haven’t introduced myself, have I?

On a low

I belong to one of three critically endangered vulture species, out of nine that are found in the Indian subcontinent. May be about a few decades ago, our species of white-rumped vultures was the most abundant bird of prey on the planet. We soared free and high over Southeast Asia, nesting on tall trees, taking great care of our solitary chick. Life was good then, food was plenty and it wasn’t toxic.

Today though, it’s a sad story. My melancholic letter probably upsets you. I am sorry. What should I do? I have to stop this funereal writing.

As I was saying, the drug is safe, effective and cheap; it works wonders on aging cows and bulls. When we, the white-backed (white-rumped, if you like) vultures, hungrily devour the juicy, fleshy organs of dead cattle, we are killing ourselves. Those tempting morsels are tainted with diclofenac. That, my friends, causes kidney failure in us. The mere thought of extinction is killing me. To make matters worse, we lay only one egg in a breeding season. Holy Cow! Why this punishment?

Strangely, we are not the only ones to be affected by this drug. The Parsi community in India is also affected though indirectly. The Parsis, meaning Persians, migrated to India about a 1,000 years ago. They were persecuted in their home country of Persia because they follow a religion called Zoroastrianism. They settled mainly along the west coast of India. Today many live in Mumbai.

Parsis worship fire and Earth. Hence, they neither burn nor bury their dead. May they Rest in Peace! Instead they leave the dead in stone towers called “ dakhmas ’ where vultures feed on them. The problem now is that there are so few of us left! Parsi religious practices are affected by that bovine medication.

White-rumped vulture

Reply from Aristotle

Some newspaper headlines of your gloomy story —

Raptors Regret Ravaging Remains

Bovine Booby Traps

White-backed Cow-ed down

Cheer up! I hear the vets now use a drug that does not harm you. Things are looking up for you!

Published as part of a series titled ‘Aristotle’s Mailbag’ in Young World, The Hindu, dt. October 22, 2013


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