The Virtues of Vultures

Do you find vultures “revulting”? In a Slate essay titled “Vulture World,” Constance Casey tallies up the virtues of vultures:

vulture-in-profile1What would happen without them? The major vulture news of the last decade gives a clue. A mysterious die-off of Asian white-backed vultures has led to a pileup of domestic animal carcasses and an increase in the population of rodents and feral dogs. It turned out that an anti-inflammatory drug—diclofenac—used on sick livestock kills vultures even in low doses. Though the Indian government is phasing out the veterinary use of the drug, the vulture population hasn’t rebounded. One social consequence has been that members of the Zoroastrian Parsi community, who have used vultures to dispose of human corpses, now have to cremate their dead. But that doesn’t solve the problem of animal carcasses in a vulture-free world. Let’s be grateful the turkey vultures are keeping us from being awash in dead raccoons.

Click here for the complete story. The bottom line is, these birds not-of-prey perform a vital service in the economy of living and no-longer-living things.

The instincts and capacities of vultures should invite questions about how the mechanism of natural selection explains their evolutionary emergence. Did they evolve out of a need for there to be garbage disposals that would spare the animal kingdom from life-threatening disease?

A brief list of sources on vultures:

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