Each bird, plant and animal species has a particular role to play in whichever ecological system they exist. It is their collaborative contribution that enables Mother Nature to provide all of the ecological products and services we enjoy on a daily basis.    Likewise, vultures play an important ecological role in the places where they exist. They are the guardians of their native ecological environment as they clear carcasses and reduce the spread of deadly diseases. Vultures are extremely beautiful birds, however they are experiencing a steep decline in their population in Pakistan. There are many reasons behind this. First and foremost is the negativity that is associated with vultures. Since the bird eats carcasses, its sight is normally not perceived as a good omen and people try to get rid of it as soon as they see it. There is a dire need for national level awareness campaigns where the masses are made aware of vultures and how they are actually doing us a favour and contributing to society.

In order to sustain a healthy population of vultures, it is important to ensure the existence of habitats that these guardians of ecosystems consider home. Apart from the shrinking habitats, there is an equally important factor responsible for the steep decline in the number of vultures in Pakistan. The drug normally referred to as diclofenac sodium and commonly used by dairy farm owners to treat diseases in their animals (Baanhn Beli & IUCN Pakistan, 2016) is partially to blame. However, due to several rigorous awareness campaigns by environmentalists in India,       Pakistan and Nepal, the use of diclofenac sodium was banned in 2006 followed by a ban in Bangladesh in 2010. Diclofenac sodium was then replaced by another drug, meloxicam, with similar properties and characteristics but with no negative impacts on the population of vultures (Baanhn Beli & IUCN Pakistan, 2016).

There is a dire need for the government and non-profit organizations in Pakistan to take significant actions to preserve the remaining vultures in Pakistan so that these beautiful birds can be given another opportunity to survive, breed and thrive within the country. It is important to mention here that vultures keep their surrounding environment clean from diseases that would otherwise spread through rotting cadavers. Thus by consuming these, vultures keep both land areas and water bodies clean from deadly diseases and viruses, which otherwise can negatively impact the surrounding human colonies and can lead to the spread of deadly diseases in humans too. Vultures are able to keep the environment healthy due to their physiological functions, particularly stomach acid, which helps in fighting even the deadliest viruses like anthrax. The financial worth of the ecological services that a single vulture provides in its native environment varies from USD$10,000 to USD$23,763 (Baanhn Beli & IUCN Pakistan, 2016)

The aforementioned value helps us in understanding the critical role that vultures play in keeping our environment clean and safe. It is important that these beautiful birds are seen as loving creatures rather than a sign of misfortune. It is vital to remember that God has created vultures for a very important purpose and thus it should not be seen in any other way than a blessing that keeps our surrounding environment clean. Furthermore, we also need to upgrade our existing curriculum, particularly of schools and colleges, where the ecological role of vultures is highlighted.

All in all, vultures play an extremely important role in keeping their native ecosystem healthy. These beautiful birds prey upon the dead body of other animals and thus remove waste from the ecological system and allow life to thrive in a healthy environment. These guardians of nature protect soil and water bodies and keep them in good condition. As already mentioned, the value of ecological services provided by a single vulture varies but it shows the worth of their role in the ecosystem. We need to ensure that our actions do not cause further decline of the species and therefore we need to create awareness at a national level to ensure that people are well aware of their importance and are playing their part in their conservation. By doing so, we can ensure a healthy population of vultures that will ensure a sustainable future for us and our coming generations.

Ayoub Hameedi is a policy analyst and founder / Operations Manager at Project Green.