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Vol XXXI No. 22, March 1-15, 2022

Standing Up for the Vultures!

-- Shobha Menon

Over 99% of the vulture population in India has disappeared in recent years. Four of its nine species are critically endangered according to the IUCN. Conservationist S. Bharathidasan’s book In Search of Vultures is a passionate call for vulture conservation, a shout out for revival of the Paaru Kazhugu, as it is known locally in Tamil Nadu. It is also the latest offering of the Kalamkriya Publishing Team that has showcased many unique publications, over the last decade.

The author has collated in an easy-to-understand style, many interesting details on vulture classification, historical and cultural connections, key causes for decline and the extensive, arduous fight to save the magnificent bird. His reason, as he affirms, is that ‘Extinction of an organism will have serious consequences on our ecosystem, but it may not be immediately visible. The inescapable truth is that the existence of all organisms – including humans, is totally interdependent on one another. The present generation has the full responsibility and onerous task of protection of these magnificent species’ .

Interesting snippets and anecdotes, alongside factual information trace the history of the gradual decline of the species. As an old record notes ‘there were more vultures than crows around the tanneries of Chromepet in old Madras’. Also, meticulous detailing of vultures in literature, across religions, in archaeology, and of the ancient vultures feeding ritual in Thirukazhukundram, a town near Chengalpattu, that seemed to gradually decline by 1994, alongside scientific facts of the visiting Egyptian vultures’ appearance and disappearance! There is even a quaint picture of Ramalinga Desikar V, the last of the priests who fed the vultures. The author’s simple and effective way of communicating is an important aspect in reaching out to more sections of society, it is a book meant for anyone to understand, and stand up for vultures!

Fascinating are the details shared on the anatomy of the species, nesting (they start laying eggs only when they reach 7 years!), ecosystem services, behaviour – how some vultures carry large bones high above rocks to break them, and since they have no predators in nature they usually live upto 50 years! And of course, a brilliant collection of amazingly life-like photographs, of common and uncommon species, conveying the birds remarkable stature and presence. Even a layperson cannot fail to be entranced by the wealth of images and detailing.

On a sombre note Barathidasan also delineates the gradual steps to the discovery of the disastrous decline of the vultures, the unravelling of the mystery behind and the mindboggling news from scientists who proved ‘that even if less than 15 of livestock carcasses available for vultures had Diclofenac residues, that would kill thousand of vultures’. The convoluted legal battle, campaigns for conservation by his NGO Arulagam and the run up to the historic judgement in which the Court terms the bird as ‘natural sanitary worker’ instead of ‘natural scavenger’ and the crucial ban on Diclofenac are shared. Not just to read, but to act for the vultures, is his plea.

Nature writer Theodore Baskaran, commends the book ‘as one of the series of efforts that my friend Barathidasan has taken to save the bird from going into oblivion. His proficiency in Tamil and ability to interact with forest dwelling people has been a big advantage’. Truly, this book is a genuine effort to connect knowledge about a species to action for the species, a heartwarming and touching tribute to the campaign for vulture conservation. The book reveals a rare passion, that believes in actionable work for the cause. It will be a big step to, as Barathidasan says, “Let the vultures rule the sky again!’’

Kalamkriya’s Publishing Team is headed by Chandra Sankar, whose work in showcasing heritage – built, natural and cultural, has been commendable. Beginning life in-house printing for the Sanmar group, about a decade ago, Kalamkriya started by bringing out several corporate brochures, to in-house publications of Sanmar and then got involved in bringing out a series of books that look at various aspects of Chennai and Tamil Nadu. These bilingual books – in Tamil and English, are distributed free of cost.

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