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Extinction, Vultures, Poisoning, and Dead Bodies.

The problem is with the birds. Namely, vultures. We generally do not think of rotting corpses as sacred. Practitioners of Zoroastrianism have a religious practice called “sky burial”. It is the creation of open burial spaces called Dakhma (towers of silence). Recently deceased human bodies are placed in a tower, then birds of prey like crows and vultures come and eat the body until the skeleton is placed in a central pit.

This is based on the belief that bodies add corruption to the land and should not be buried in the ground. This is not the only practice that is used. Alternatives, such as using cement-lined coffins, are becoming more popular.

One group that still practice sky burials are the Parsi Zoroastrians. They live in India. Of the 138,000 Zoroastrians that exist in the world, around 69,000 live in India. In Mumbai, the center of Parsi, the vulture population has nearly disappeared. Vultures decreased by 99% by 2007. The main reason was Diclofenac, an anti-inflammation drug used on livestock, that was poisonous to vultures.

While the use of solar convertors to breakdown the body have been tried, it does not work during the monsoon season and during night, leading to rotting corpses being left for weeks. A group of vultures can completely strip a corpse to the bone in hours.

The Indian government is trying a plan to recover the vulture population. This is part of a global problem. Of the 11-vulture species, only 1 is not at risk of extinction. This is due to slow breeding times, lack of food, and human hunting.

Since the Zoroaster population is dwindling (for every 1 birth into the religion there are 3 deaths) and an aging population the ritual is becoming more important to certain leaders. The proposed breeding program is supposed to bring back millions of vultures by 2040, but it remains to be seen whether both the birds and the ritual will exist at that time.

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