Vultures: the acid-puking, plague-busting heroes of the ecosystem – Kenny Coogan

Vultures: the acid-puking, plague-busting heroes of the ecosystem – Kenny Coogan

In the grasslands of Mauritania, a gazelle suffering from tuberculosis
takes its last breath. Collapsing near a small pool, the animal’s corpse
threatens to infect the water. But for the desert’s cleanup crew,
this body isn’t a problem: it’s a feast. Weighing up to 10 kilograms and possessing a wingspan
of nearly 3 meters, the lappet-faced vulture
is the undisputed king of the carcass. This bird’s powerful beak and strong neck easily tear through tough hide
and muscle tissue, opening entry points
for weaker vultures to dig in. This colossal competition is too dangerous
for the tiny Egyptian vulture. With a wingspan of only 180 centimeters, this vulture migrated to Africa
from his family nest in Portugal, using thermal updrafts to stay aloft
for hours at a time. But upon arrival, he finds himself near
the bottom of the pecking order. Fortunately, what he lacks in size,
he makes up for in intelligence. A short distance away,
he spots an unguarded ostrich nest, full of immense, but impenetrable eggs. Using a large rock, he smashes one open
for a well-earned meal— though he’ll circle back to the gazelle
once the larger birds are gone. High above the commotion
are Ruppell’s Griffon vultures. Soaring at an altitude
of over 11,000 meters, these birds fly higher
than any other animal. At this height, they can’t see
individual carcasses. But the sight of their fellow vultures
guides them to the feeding. Their featherless heads help them regulate the sudden rise in temperature
as they descend— and keep them clean
as they tear into the decaying gazelle. The carcass is stripped clean in hours, well before the rotting meat
infects the water supply. And the tuberculosis doesn’t
stand a chance at infecting the vultures. These birds have evolved the lowest
gastric pH in the animal kingdom, allowing them to digest diseased
carrion and waste without becoming sick. In fact, species like
the mountain-dwelling bearded vulture have stomachs so acidic, they can digest most bones
in just 24 hours. This adaptation helps smaller vultures
supplement their diet with dung, while larger vultures can consume
diseased meat up to 3 days old. Their acidic stomachs protect them
from living animals too: their rancid vomit
scares off most predators. These stomachs of steel are essential
to removing pathogens like cholera, anthrax, and rabies
from the African ecosystem. But while vultures can easily digest
natural waste, man-made chemicals are another story. Diclofenac, a common veterinary drug
used to treat cattle in India, is fatal to vultures. And because local religious beliefs
prohibit eating beef, scavengers often consume cattle carcasses. Since the 1990s, the drug, along with threats from electricity pylons
and habitat loss, has contributed to a 95% decline
in the region’s vulture population. In nearby Africa,
poachers intentionally poison carcasses to prevent the birds’ presence from
alerting authorities to their location. One poisoned carcass can kill
over 500 vultures. Today, more than 50% of all vulture
species are endangered. In regions where vultures
have gone extinct, corpses take three times longer to decay. These carcasses contaminate
drinking water, while feral dogs and rats carry
the diseases into human communities. The Asian and African Vulture Crisis
has led to an epidemic of rabies in India, where infections kill roughly
20,000 people each year. Fortunately, some communities have already
realized how important vultures are. Conservationists have successfully banned
drugs like Diclofenac, while other researchers are working
to repopulate vulture communities through breeding programs. Some regions have even opened
vulture restaurants where farmers safely dispose
of drug-free livestock. With help, vultures will be able
to continue their role conserving the health of our planet—
transforming death and decay into life.

🦋Escucha a tu corazón, no te rindas, ese dolor que hoy sientes en tu interior, se irá

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100 Replies to “Vultures: the acid-puking, plague-busting heroes of the ecosystem – Kenny Coogan”

  1. I used to describe politicians in the Philippines as vultures. Thanks to this video, I've been enlightened to the fact that I've been describing them wrongly all this time.

  2. 20k death by rabies per year from not having enough carrions? Mother Nature knows how to balance things.
    EDIT: If that was the effect of just one specie dying off then I don't want to imagine what nature will have in store for us as more of natural ecosystem went down the drain.

  3. Vultures: the best clean up crew!!! As a kid yeah I misunderstood them… Thankful with Ted and other educational media platform that explains how important they are.

  4. This vulture restaurants are a hit. As soon as the cattle dies a van arrives at the farmer, the dead body is tested for diclofenac. And then transported to nearby vulture restaurant. Its been fairly successful at least in my state in India.

  5. The Parsi and Irani community in India, do not cremate or bury their dead. There is this structure called Tower of Silence in Mumbai , where the community members leave the dead for excarnation. Vultures play a big role in this process. Reduction in the vulture population is affecting these communities as well !!

  6. But what about crows, ravens and seagulls? Are they not doing their job as cleaners as well, in the more cold environments?

  7. Orgel's Second Rule

    "Evolution is cleverer than you are..” In this case Evolution is significantly cleverer than farmers in rural India.

  8. And don't forget, this video also contribute to people who don't know yet, about how important Vultures are, (included me)

    The message about how important Vultures are, can spread in different ways, with catchy animations, hope younger generation can understand, or maybe interest about how important Vultures are

  9. Whenever this planet is doomed we humans will the prime reason and we won't stop here we will take our infection to space aswell!

  10. The ecosystem is soo balanced. Look at how one displacement of a bird I did not even think about can affect everything. 👀

  11. Every time I see the speciality and importance of an animal in ted ed…I feel sorry for what we humans have done to them..

  12. All vultures had been wiped out from the Indian Subcontinent by the use of Diclofenac medicine for pain relief in cattles. My grandmother's farm had a Banyan tree with over more than 800 vultures on it. Now it stands bare😢

  13. First of all, I had no idea animals could get TB and secondly I had no idea vultures were so beneficial to the ecosystem, with them being able to digest diseased meat (I knew about the rotting meat, just not diseased).

    I guess everyone, even the vultures, have a place in this world.

  14. The video was very interesting!! I have seen a similar video of some bird enthusiasts of Vultures!!

  15. Root cause of ALL problems on this planet -> HUMANS!!!!! The only hope for this planet is the extinction of our species. Us humans ARE the plague

  16. The moment i saw vulture i thought about diclofenac. Thing is in india diclofenac is atleast banned but man my country pakistan there are 420 drugs which have diclofenac and i just don’t know what to do

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