Last year was lean-times. Plentiful rain and warming sun nourished verdant fields of rice and millet and sugarcane. Herds of sacred cows and droves of goats grew fat with wheat and calf and kid. The farmers and their families feasted every night.
This season is better. Drought-boiled soil dries to dust, crops shrivel yellow and brown, streams run bare to bed. Starvation haunts the sacred beasts, their bodies withering to fly-swarmed leather and sun-bleached bone.
The vulture’s sharp eyes catch the stumble of another dying cow. He spreads his wings and swoops down to enjoy his breakfast.
A Bird’s-eye View
Every other Sunday I’ll be publishing a drabble about, or from the perspective of, a bird. This week’s bird is the majestic vulture. This particular drabble is set in India, where the population of vultures has been recently decimated by the use of the highly lethal (to vultures) veterinary drug, diclofenac. As a result of the declining vulture populations, there has been a corresponding rise in rat and wild dog numbers; these mammals feed on the carcasses which would previously have been scavenged by vultures, and in turn spread diseases such as rabies and plague.
A couple of years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary about the plight of India’s vultures, and it highlights just how important a single species can be to an ecosystem’s food chain; and how vulnerable the equilibrium becomes once a niche species such as the vulture is removed from the chain. The fellow in the picture above is an African Lappet-faced vulture—a species also in decline and currently classed as ‘vulnerable.’