Ask the director of the Bombay Natural History Society about vultures, and he will discuss the issue endlessly. Ask him about Parsis and their corpse disposal practices, and he will roll his eyes.
By Gardiner Harris| NYTimes
“I am only interested in the vulture issue,” Dr. Asad R. Rahmani said during a recent interview in his office. “The Parsi issue is only a very small part of it. From a news perspective, it may be sexy. But I’m not interested.”
Despite this lack of interest, Dr. Rahmani said that he has been dragged into repeated meetings with Parsi leaders to discuss providing them with vultures. And he has witnessed the fierce disagreements that have roiled the Parsi community over the proposal to build vulture aviaries.
“Oh, how they fight,” Dr. Rahmani said.
Dr. Rahmani has agreed to help Parsis resolve their corpse disposal problem for one reason – money. Lots of it. If Parsi leaders agree to fund not only two aviaries at the Towers of Silence but a breeding site outside of Mumbai, the government will agree to the partnership.
Unfortunately, neither the government of India nor private donors have done enough to save the vultures because, Dr. Rahmani said, they are not cute.
“Vultures aren’t as beautiful as tigers so they don’t get anywhere near the funding,” Dr. Rahmani said. “But vultures are much more threatened than tigers. Their extinction is possible in my lifetime.”
And that is why Dr. Rahmani continues to negotiate with Parsi leaders, he said, because Parsis are committed and have money.
Whether Parsis were complicit in the huge die-off of vultures is uncertain. Diclofenac, the painkiller drug that is lethal to vultures, began to decimate vulture flocks only after its use was approved in livestock in 1993. But the drug was used in humans long before that, and it is entirely possible that Parsi corpses were riddled with the drug during the 1980s, poisoning vultures for years.
Indeed, Mumbai’s vulture population began to decline well before 1993.
“We thought it was the tall buildings that were going up, and that a change in habitat resulted in their disappearance,” Dr. Rahmani said. “But no one thought about diclofenac.”
Diclofenac’s role in the collapse of global vulture populations was not identified until January 2004.
Now, Parsis may become an important contributor to a vulture revival. But for Dr. Rahmani, it is Parsi money and not their bodies that is most important to that revival.
contributed to this post.