Friday, May 30, 2008

Vultures: The Bees of India

old world vultureAs with bees in America, so with vultures in India -- they've lately gone about disappearing, and taking their usefulness with them:

All the proper components of dokhmenashini, the Zoroastrian method of handling their dead, were in place, but the vultures that once completed the cycle by scavenging an exposed corpse in less than five minutes were missing. The custom, so ancient it was described by Herodotus 2,500 years ago, has come to an abrupt end in the past decade, as the vulture population of South Asia has plummeted. In addition to playing a crucial role in processing the human cadavers of this small religious group, vultures filled a vital ecological niche as scavengers of the dead and decaying matter that litters India's countryside.
As religious rites go, giving the dead to the vultures isn't the most grotesque of the candidates -- it has a genuine cycle-of-life quality to it -- although I have to guess no one stands around to watch the frenzied vultures feeding on granny. Or no one did when there were vultures enough to feed on granny and clear the countryside of assorted corpses.

Nothing fails like vultures?

(H/T 3 Quarks Daily)


Bpaul said...


Seachanges said...

Well.... don't know what to say to this, but it certainly is interesting!

Emaliam said...

Who created the amazing pic?

Emaliam said...

Reason I'm asking - I made a short film about vultures and wanted to use the image as a thumbnail:

Dale said...

Emaliam, I am linking it from wikipedia's article on vultures (, but it looks like it originates here:

It is indeed a stunning image.