We've moved!

Check out our new site at
and be sure to update your bookmarks.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Endangered Rituals

The rapid disappearance of vultures in South Asia is having a dramatic effect on the burial rituals of the area's Parsis, who follow the Zoroastrian faith, especially those in India. Parsis have relied on the vultures to dispose of the remains of the dead for more than 2,500 years. Their religion forbids both burial and cremation, which are viewed as polluting the sacred elements of the natural world, but without the vultures to complete the cycle of life, the bodies are beginning to pile up, causing many Parsis to worry about the fates of their loves ones' souls.
Hindus, who are forbidden to touch deceased cattle, and Muslims, who can't handle deceased animals not used in sacrifice, are also feeling the effects of the dwindling vulture population as carcasses begin to line the country. More disturbing are the large numbers of wild dogs and rats, which are thriving in the absence of vultures and could act as carriers for epidemic diseases. Scientists have isolated the cause of the rapid decline—a pharmaceutical drug called diclofenac that has been heavily used to treat both livestock and humans throughout the region—and taken steps to return the vulture population to its previous numbers. —Stephen Mapes