Saturday, 2 September 2006

Vulture culture

While I was collecting flies from carrion—Don't ask. No, really, don't—I heard an intriguing story on ABC News Radio. It combines endangered species, death and ritual. What more could a person ask?

Mumbai's small but influential Parsi community is divided over the issue of disposing off their dead.

What sparked off the controversy were pictures taken by 65-year-old Dhan Baria of the Tower of Silence where the Parsis lay their dead to rest.

The pictures reveal how hundreds of bodies are lying there decomposing because there are no vultures to feed on them, as the Parsi custom requires

This has led to a debate within Mumbai's Parsi community. Should they abandon thousands of years of tradition? Or should they do something about the vultures?

My interest piqued, I searched on 'vultures' in Google News. It seems that over the past month, a range of vultures have been causing havoc around the globe.

In South America:

Hundreds of vultures have swarmed the airport of the biggest city in Peru's Amazon jungle, putting planes at risk and threatening to cut off the city of more than 400,000 people from the rest of the country.

The birds are fighting back in Florida.

A flock of as many as 47 black and turkey vultures at Santa Fe Community College has posed problems for the school, scattering trash and damaging buildings. So the university is testing techniques to deal with the birds, starting with trying to frighten them away.

New Jersey hasn't escaped from the plague of vultures.

FLORENCE — In what could appear to be a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” dozens of turkey vultures have descended into this New Jersey township on the banks of the Delaware River, making life difficult for residents.

“You have to walk with caution,” Baptist minister Timothy Weeks told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill for Saturday newspapers. “Not from what’s on the ground but from what might come from above. It splatters all over when it hits.”

The South Carolina scavengers are even taking a leaf from the kea's book.

HARTWELL DAM — Black vulture behavior at Hartwell Lake is continuing to puzzle officials almost a week after multiple birds damaged three vehicles.
On Aug. 16, complaints were filed with the Hart County Sheriff’s Office about incidents at Big Oaks Park. In each report, motorists reported seeing "buzzards" covering their cars.

Tanya Grant, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger at Hartwell Lake, said the birds were after rubber. "They like to pull at" the meaty texture, she said

The Old World vultures may be declining (though obviously not from a want of food) but the New World vultures are going from strength to strength. If only Hitchcock had ditched the seagulls ...

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