Rich biodiversity on the planet Earth is not lesser than a miracle. Infinite species of flora and fauna are a concrete proof of God's generosity and love for mankind; otherwise the world would have been dull and monotonous. Besides adding color and charm to the human life on the planet earth, the diverse species have been created for some or the other reasons by the Creator of this universe. From Blue whale to humming bird, every creature has been entrusted with some task or function. We have thousands of animal species on the planet. Among these, some species are known for their unique and astounding physical features. And many are endemic to different parts of the world, and have become symbolic for regions they are found in, like Haangul which is endemic to Kashmir and is synonymously used for Kashmir. Many wondrous species are endangered, and some have gone extinct. For a layman, many species seem to be useless and vague but the Creator of this universe has assigned them some special jobs to perform which otherwise can't be carried out by human beings. Vulture commonly known as Graed in Kashmir is one such creature. The bird is a natural cleaner that eats up dead animals.
The bird is looked down with a lot of disgust in our social setup. This bird is not very good-looking in comparison to other birds and many people attribute its sight to a bad omen. In Kashmir, Word Graed is used to ridicule a person who is not good looking. Thus, the bird is known to every Kashmiri though most of them have not seen it. But, would you believe that this bird is so endangered that it has almost disappeared from our part of globe including whole of South Asia and some parts of Africa as well. This bird is facing the pangs of extinction. Though the word Graed is deeply embedded in our literary and linguistic transactions but there is hardly a single Individual of the bird seen in whole South Asia.
I have some beautiful reminiscences of the bird. To avert any possible damage to the ripe paddy crops by children of my age, my Dad would very often scare us with a "vulture" by pointing towards an eagle sitting on the top of a paddy bale (Daa'n Gun) that there is the Vulture .An eagle that would probably be looking for its prey was a terrible sight for me given its similarities with a vulture. For many years, the word “vulture" was very frightening for me and My Dad would scare me that vultures are so frightening and powerful that they can kill and lift a child in its beak. Thus, the name vulture was a synonym of terror and ugliness for me and my siblings. We would skip visits to our ripe paddy fields because we had been made scare of the bird. The case is not so. Vulture is a gentle bird, and as precious as the other birds because it carries out an important job which makes human surroundings neat and clean. For me, it is more valuable and beautiful than a peacock because its ugly looking beak outshines the dance of peacock. The bird feeds itself on the flesh of the dead animals, thus makes our surroundings and environment fetor free.
Many of our elders might have sighted this less good-looking bird near the dead animals and carcasses eating the pungent-smelling rotten flesh. Our grown up people and new generations would have to Google it, if they wish to have a glimpse of the bird because this bird has gone almost extinct, courtesy to human insensitivity and callousness. The Creator of this universe has assigned a special job to this bird. It is called a scavenger or a natural sweeper. It eats the carcasses and other dead remains of the animals; hence the environment is cleaned up naturally. The bird has a specific role to play in the maintenance of the ecological balance of our planet. But this bird is rarely seen now and is almost extinct. During the last 15 years, 97% population of this bird has disappeared from the skies of the subcontinent. According to researches, 40 million vultures of different species have been poisoned during the last two decades in South Asia only.
Once again, the culprit is man! Yes, an anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock known as "diclofenac" is believed to be the cause of its extinction. Other painkillers like ketoprofen, acelofenac and nimuslide are equally dangerous for it. These vet drugs used by veterinary department are also believed to be detrimental in the clean sweep of this bird. Though the usage of this drug is banned but vet workers administer human painkillers to livestock which adds to the severity of the deteriorated scenario. Many subcontinent nations like India, Pakistan and Nepal have initiated some conservatory measures like banning the diclofenac vet product, and establishing breeding farms for vultures. But, the measures taken are not sufficient and adequate. Government must ensure the bird population is increased, and all the necessary steps should be taken to save this beautiful natural cleaner for our smooth survival. Let researchers and environmentalists suggest conservatory measures to be implemented by our people at the helm of affairs.
Some localized threats include electrocution, food shortage, usage of pesticides and Poisonous baits targeting dogs and other animals in many areas could possibly be another threat to this natural scavenger. Warfare and usage of chemical weapons is also a probable threat to it. Let us hope that the concerned stakeholders will leave no stone unturned to save this beautiful bird from extinction.
(The Author is a Teacher and a Columnist)