The scenes described of Indiana farmlands and elsewhere seem to have sprung right out of a horror tale, with black vultures dropping into the Midwest’s woodlands and grasslands.
Farmers report savage attacks on their livestock, including wakes of funereal, hunch-shouldered big black birds dining on newborn calves as they emerge from their moms, and even preying on the mothers.
Vultures are known as “nature’s garbage disposals” because their highly customised digestive and immunological systems allow them to eat useless and diseased animal carcasses with impunity. While scavenging is considered an important ecosystem service, reports of black vultures feeding on domestic animals are rather rare, according to some experts, who are sceptical that predation is decreasing.
The state of affairs in Indiana this summer was bad enough that farmers are now permitted to obtain permission from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to “take,” or kill, as many as three birds, a procedure that is now being implemented in several states across the Midwest.
Vultures, on the other hand, are a well-known and important part of the ecosystem. Vulture deaths were widespread in India, for example, due to extensive usage of a veterinary medicine that was harmful to the birds. This resulted in an upsurge in rabies cases. Vultures used to pick up dead livestock and other waste; when they vanished, dogs began eating the trash, and as their numbers grew, so did rabies cases.