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Ten days of continuous birding in Rajasthan had kind of worn me out physically. However, I would not let this hinder my eternal quest for vultures and headed in that direction. Traveling north west of Tal Chappar, we drove a little over 130 kms towards Bikaner, from one raptor paradise to another.

Our destination was Jorbeer, just off Bikaner. A conservation reserve for vultures and other migratory birds. As you would expect at any reserve for scavenging raptors, this one was surely not a place for the faint hearted.

What disgusted me was neither the sight nor the stench, but heaps of plastic leftovers from the otherwise completely consumed carcasses. Cattle and other herbivores accidentally consume tonnes of plastic while grazing around human settlement areas, and that obviously does not get digested. This continues to deposit in their stomach/intestine till death. The dead cattle from surrounding villages are dumped here at the feeding site. While the skin, flesh and bones are eaten by vultures and other scavenging animals, the plastic remains unconsumed (hopefully) and non-degraded. 

I was so overwhelmed by the sight that I totally missed taking images of those mounds of poison, which I could have otherwise shared in this blog. Plastic menace is a big problem and this reality strikes you even harder here. 

After spending an hour inside the reserve, we were slowing down our vehicle to fill the camera memory card with some flight shots of griffin vultures soaring above. Suddenly, the driver jammed the brakes to bring the vehicle to a screeching halt. Wait, what!? I shouted in panic, barely holding on to my camera equipment. There it was, an obstacle over three feet tall – the mighty Cinereous. 

Portrait of a Cinereous Vulture

Both, the vulture and we, were taken by surprise. Having taken a sharp turn on this track just a few minutes ago, we didn’t expect an extremely sensitive vulture to appear here, right in front of us. After a brief moment, our eyes met and the mighty monk decided to take off..

Cinereous Vulture – about to take-off

I will treasure this experience and images from this series for a long time.

Also known as monk vultures, these massive birds visit the subcontinent during winters to avoid harsh weather in Northern Asia. They are huge and one of the world’s heaviest flying birds.

Thanks to habitat destruction and other human infused threats, the Cinereous Vulture is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ today and staring at a risk of extinction. If action based conservation efforts aren’t employed soon enough, the take-off of the Cinereous vulture will not merely be migratory anymore but a permanent one, from our planet.

Vultures are a backbone of the ecosystem and their disappearance or even reduction in population has direct correlation with the risk of epidemic outbursts. So if not for them, let us at least conserve them for us.

Place: Jorbeer, Bikaner, Rajasthan, India (November 2018)

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Cinereous Vulture – Take off