(Pain et al. 2003). Today, a rapid population crash has led Gyps bengalensis along with Gyps indicus, the long-billed vulture and Gyps tenuirostris, the slender-billed vulture to the brink of extinction. In 1996 the status of the vultures was common and not threatened and by 2000 they were upgraded to Critically Endangered' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), placing them among the most threatened birds in the world (Cunningham et al. 2003; Pain et al. 2003). As conservationists race to determine the cause of the sudden population crash, the loss of the vultures is causing devastating economic, ecological and religious impacts on South Asian communities.
Adult vultures range from five to ten kilograms. Gyps bengalensis are distinctive from the other species because they are slightly smaller with darker
plumage and have white on their rump, under-wing and head (Bird Life 2000). Gyps indicus and Gyps tenuirostris were once classified as the same species, but have since been separated and are now distinguished by their morphologically different bills, which lead to their common names (Cunningham et al. 2003). Gyps vultures are distributed across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa (Fig.1) (Pain et al. 2003). Vultures feed primarily on carrion by scavenging the soft tissues of large mammals including the meat, offal, and intestines, but not the stomach. Vultures can take a sufficient amount of food into their crop during one meal to last for several days (Bird Life 2000). Vultures are valued as keystone species in their South Asian ecosystems due to their efficient scavenging abilities. Prior to their overwhelming decline, vultures were responsible for greater meat consumption than all mammalian carnivores combined (Pain et al. 2003).
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