What’s all this hullabaloo about ‘making connections’? You must wonder why Gobar Times harps on ‘making connections’. Another favourite mantra is – ‘be informed’. Such boring stuff, isn’t it? No tree-plantings, painting competitions, ‘queez’. No ‘Save the cuddly leopards’. Instead, we’re asking you to spare a thought for the bald, wrinkled, smelly vulture.

The vultures of Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, till recently, numbered 2000. Now there are just four. Did I hear someone mutter, “Good riddance”? Good riddance it may seem, but chances of people following the vultures are pretty high. What can happen to vultures can happen to us.

Experts have found traces of pesticides in the brain tissue of vultures and say that this may be the cause of their death. The food chain holds the key. Vultures eat animal carcasses infected with pesticides from the grain that forms the cattle-feed. Other birds or prey, like fishing eagles, also become victims as pesticides enter into the plankton in water, which are then eaten by fish which eagles eat. See, how the poison climbs steadily, a little higher at each level? Until it reaches the vultures. Or us. After all, we eat meat too. Vegetarians needn’t rejoice.

Portrait of a Vulture
Portrait of a Vulture

A government survey studied 108 samples of cereals, pulses, eggs, milk, meat and vegetables out of which 104 were found to contain pesticides, and 69 samples had pesticide levels above the allowable limit.

Vultures also clean up a carcass in two hours flat. No smell, just sparkling dry bones remain. Without the vultures, your next trip to a wildlife sanctuary will be highlighted by SMELL!!

Aldrin, DDT, dieldrin, chlordane – these fancy-named killers – have over the years led to the decline of the Californian condor, the American bald eagle, the grey partridge and the song thrush in England, and the South African blue crane. Realising how deadly they are, the U.S. and several European countries have banned the use of these pesticides, but countries like ours haven’t their lesson.

What happens when pesticides like these are eaten by birds (if they don’t die first) is really weird. They lay deformed eggs with thin egg shells, and many of the young birds die really soon. Sometimes, because these chemicals jigger up the parents’ endocrine systems, the male baby birds become very feminine.

So will this affect humans? Naturally, it will. Scientists in Canada, Sweden and the U.S. have found a very strong link between the use of pesticides and a certain type of cancer called Non Hodgkin’s Lymphomas.

And wouldn’t you think that, babies at least would be safe from the clutch of these chemicals? Well, they’ve found pesticides in mother’s milk! Besides, 20 different brands of baby milk powder sold in the market were tested, and 90% of them showed that infants fed on them would absorb 90% more of the toxic chemical beta-HCH than was acceptable.

So next time, someone you know starts shaving instead of putting on lipstick, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

[ Courtesy: Gobar Times, a children’s newspaper produced by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. It aims to create environmental awareness among children by dealing with issues in a language that is simple, quirky and fun, along with innovative visuals.]

541 words | 5 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: planet earth
Tags: #birds, #pesticides, #vulture, #chemicals, #smell, #gobar

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