Late last year, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. A dhoti-clad man walked up to collect an award for his work in saving vultures from extinction in the Mudumalai region of Tamil Nadu.
S. Bharathidasan, 45, started life as an organic farmer, got interested in birding and then, as his concern deepened, became a passionate conservationist. Now, for the past few years, he has been working to protect vultures from oblivion through his organisation, Arulagam.
The vulture is not a popular bird — it looks ugly with scrawny neck, long beak and bald head — and it feeds on carrion. To be a ‘vulture’ in popular parlance has always been a derogatory reference. In reality, the ecosystem would suffer if these scavengers, nature’s garbage workers, were lost.
Bharathidasan noticed a small relict population of Indian vultures nesting in a cliff in the Moyar valley of Mudumalai in the Nilgiris. He realised the importance of his find and started his conservation campaign. He worked with the forest officials, persuading them not to bury the carcasses of elephants or gaur found in the forest but to leave them as feed for the vultures.