Old World vulture

Old World vultures
Lappet-faced Vultures (left) and a White-backed Vulture
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Subfamily: Aegypiinae

See text.

Old World vultures belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.

Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two groups of vultures are due to convergent evolution rather than a close relationship. They were widespread in both the Old World and North America, during the Neogene. Old World vultures are probably a polyphyletic group within Accipitridae, with Palm-nut Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Lammergeier separate from the others.[1]

Both Old World and New World vultures are scavenging birds, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight. A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of feathers. If vultures had head feathers, they would become spattered with blood and other fluids when the vultures ate flesh from carcasses, and thus would be difficult to keep clean.



Genus Aegypius

Genus Gypaetus

  • Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus

Genus Gypohierax

Genus Gyps

Genus Necrosyrtes

Genus Neophron

Genus Sarcogyps

Genus Torgos

Genus Trigonoceps

Threat due to diclofenac poisoning

Diclofenac poisoning has caused the vulture population in India and Pakistan to decline by up to 95% in the past decade, and two or three of the species of vulture in South Asia are nearing extinction.[3] This has been caused by the practice of medicating working farm animals with diclofenac, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with anti-inflammatory and pain killing actions. Diclofenac administration keeps animals that are ill or in pain working on the land for longer, but, if the ill animals die, their carcasses contain diclofenac. Farmers leave the dead animals out in the open, relying on vultures to tidy up. Diclofenac present in carcass flesh is eaten by vultures, which are sensitive to diclofenac, and they suffer kidney failure, visceral gout, and death as a result of diclofenac poisoning.

The decline in vultures has led to hygiene problems in India as carcasses of dead animals now tend to rot, or be eaten by rats or wild dogs, rather than be tidied up by vultures. Rabies among these other scavengers is a major health threat. India has one of the world's highest incidences of rabies.[4]

The decline in vultures causes particular problems for certain communities, such as the Parsi, who practice sky burials, where the human dead are put on the top of a Tower of Silence and are eaten by vultures, leaving only dry bones.

Meloxicam (another NSAID) has been found to be harmless to vultures and should prove an acceptable alternative to diclofenac.[3] The Government of India banned diclofenac, but over a year later, in 2007, it continued to be sold and is still a problem in other parts of the world.[3]

In culture

Ancient Egypt

In Southern Africa, the name for a Nubian vultureit is synonymous with the term applied to lovers, because these vultures are always seen in pairs, mother and child remaining closely bonded together. Pairing, bonding, protecting, and loving are essential attributes associated along with the vulture's size and its ability to soar high in the sky.

The Egyptians considered the vulture to be an excellent mother, and the wide wingspan was seen as all-encompassing and providing a protective cover to her infants. The white Egyptian vulture was the animal picked to represent Nekhbet, the mother goddess and protective patron of southern, Upper Egypt. The vulture hieroglyph


was the Egyptian sign used for the sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler.

Hindu mythology

Ravana cuts Jatayu's wings, by Ravi Varma

In the Hindu epic Ramayana, there appear two demi-gods who had the form of vultures, Jatayu (Sanskrit: जटायू, jatāyū) and his brother Sampaati, with whom are associated stories of courage and self-sacrifice.

When young, the two used to compete as to who could fly higher. On one such instance Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get seared by sun's flames. Sampaati saved his brother by spreading his own wings and thus shielding Jatayu from the hot flames. In the process, Sampaati himself got injured and lost his wings. As a result Sampaati lived wingless for the rest of his life.

When Jatayu was old, he witnessed the beautiful Sita, wife of the god Rama, being kidnapped by Ravana. Jatayu tried to save her but was defeated and mortally wounded. When he lay dying he was still able to tell Rama and his brother Lakshmana in which direction Sita was being taken, facilitating her eventual rescue.


In the Tibetan practice of sky burial, vultures and other birds eat human corpses.

Contemporary concepts

Although the vulture plays an important natural role, in the Western world, the image of the vulture is quite negative, with 'vulture' used as a metaphor for those who prey on the weak or dying, with associated negative connotations of cowardice and selfishness.

Conservation efforts

A project named "Vulture Restaurant" is underway in Nepal in an effort to conserve the dwindling number of vultures. The "restaurant" is an open grassy area where naturally dying, sick, and old cows are fed to the vultures.[5][6]



External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Old World vulture — noun any of several large vultures of Africa and Eurasia • Hypernyms: ↑vulture • Hyponyms: ↑griffon vulture, ↑griffon, ↑Gyps fulvus, ↑bearded vulture, ↑lammergeier, ↑lammergeyer, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Old World Vulture (band) — Old World Vulture Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada Genres Instrumental rock, indie rock, post rock, rock, psychedelic, avant garde, shoegazing, art rock, space rock, synth rock …   Wikipedia

  • New World vulture — New World vultures Turkey Vulture Scientific classification …   Wikipedia

  • New World vulture — noun large birds of prey superficially similar to Old World vultures • Syn: ↑cathartid • Hypernyms: ↑vulture • Hyponyms: ↑buzzard, ↑turkey buzzard, ↑turkey vulture, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • vulture — [vul′chər] n. [ME vultur < L, akin to vellere, to tear: see VULNERABLE] 1. any of a number of large birds of prey with a naked, usually brightly colored head and dark plumage, including the Old World vultures (family Accipitridae) and the New… …   English World dictionary

  • vulture — vulturelike, adj. /vul cheuhr/, n. 1. any of several large, primarily carrion eating Old World birds of prey of the family Accipitridae, often having a naked head and less powerful feet than those of the related hawks and eagles. 2. any of… …   Universalium

  • Vulture — Taxobox name = Vultures image caption = Griffon vulture, Gyps fulvus image width = 250px regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Aves subdivision ranks = Families subdivision = Accipitridae (Aegypiinae) CathartidaeVultures are scavenging… …   Wikipedia

  • Vulture — Vul ture (?; 135), n. [OE. vultur, L. vultur: cf. OF. voltour, F. vautour.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any one of numerous species of rapacious birds belonging to {Vultur}, {Cathartes}, {Catharista}, and various other genera of the family {Vulturid[ae]}. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • vulture — [ vʌltʃə] noun 1》 a large bird of prey feeding chiefly on carrion, with the head and neck more or less bare of feathers. [Several species in the families Accipitridae (Old World) and Cathartidae (New World).] 2》 a contemptible person who preys on …   English new terms dictionary

  • vulture — vul•ture [[t]ˈvʌl tʃər[/t]] n. 1) orn any of several large, naked headed New World birds of prey of the family Cathartidae that soar at a high altitude seeking carrion 2) orn any of several superficially similar Old World birds of the family… …   From formal English to slang

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