Hyderabad Parsis pray for return of the scavenger bird

The dwindling number of vultures is adding to the woes of the dwindling Parsi community in the city.

By Bushra Baseerat | TNN

Depending on the scavenging birds to dispose of their dead in the ‘Tower of Silence’, the 1,200-member Parsi community in Hyderabad has been forced to resort to solar concentrators to carry out the last rites of their departed. "If the vulture population grows, we will do away with the solar concentrators. Vultures eat away the flesh in a matter of an hour or two but with the solar concentrators, it takes a few days. While in summer it is much faster, the duration gets prolonged in winter," said Omin Debara, a Zoroastrian and a civil society activist.

The two ‘Towers of Silence’ in Hyderabad are located at Bhoiguda and Parsigutta. Zoroastrian scripture and tradition say that a corpse is a host for decay. Consequently, scripture enjoins the safe disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the air, water and earth, said Ervad H Bharucha, head priest of Chenoy Fire Temple. "Although the 8,000-year-old system of disposing of our dead has not collapsed in the absence of vultures, if they resurface, we will be very happy," Bharucha added.

Farida Tampal, a Parsi, added that the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, has tied up with the Bombay Natural History Society to start vulture breeding centres in the ‘Tower of Silence’ area in Mumbai. She said that within the community people are divided as some conservative Parsis feel that this is the only right way to dispose the dead but the liberal minded say that the community should move ahead due to extinction of vultures. Some are also proposing electric crematoria, she added.

Adding to the woes of the Parsi community, the vulture breeding centre located in the Nehru Zoological Park has not taken off at all. Conceived on the lines of the vulture breeding centre at Pinjore in Haryana, the Rs 41-lakh project funded by the

Central Zoo Authority took off in 2010, four years after it was conceived. Vultures have been almost wiped out in India during the last 15 years and have not been sighted in Andhra Pradesh at least for three years now. The vultures got eliminated

by consuming cattle carcass which had been fed the drug dyclofenac by farmers to relieve them of pain. The presence of the drug in the carcass proved fatal for the vultures.

Earlier this week, a chick that was born in captivity died due to a congenital birth defect at the vulture breeding centre in the zoo. And last year, the first egg laid in the breeding centre fell from the nest and got smashed on the ground. Officials said it was crucial for the chick to survive as that would have initiated captive breeding of the endangered birds. Zoo authorities said that the post-mortem revealed that the chick’s elementary canal was missing.

"Despite taking all the precautions this time, the chick died. We need to add more pairs," said A Shankaran, curator, zoo park. Currently, there are only five vultures at the zoo. While two pairs are mating, only one female has been laying the egg for the last two years. In the second pair, either of the two birds is infertile, officials presume. Zoo authorities are hoping that they would succeed next year as even the Pinjore breeding centre succeeded only in the third year of the actual breeding.

Wildlife experts said that vultures are not just important for Zoroastrians but are the best unpaid municipal workers for the country. Rajeev Mathew, a wildlife expert, said that the fates of tigers, leopards and vultures are tied together because of their inter dependency in the wild. "Now, vultures are found only in the wild. The prey bays should be increased for tigers so that vultures get to eat something for the day. We need to have tigers for the vultures and vultures for the tigers," said Mathew.