Declining vulture population increases number of anthrax cases

The drastic decline in the population of vultures in the last 20 years is causing a major increase in diseases in India and Pakistan, such as anthrax and rabies, according to conservation experts.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently said that 20 years ago the population of vultures in South Asia was approximately 100 million. Since that time, the number of vultures has dwindled to 20,000, the Express Tribune reports.

"It is one of the fastest declining bird species in the world," Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Asia's regional director, said, according to the Express Tribune. "It is remarkable species that provides cleaning services free of charge."

Additionally, the rotting animal carcasses can pollute local ground water.

Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan recently signed an agreement in Hyderabad, India, to work together to bring the vulture back through breeding. Kabraji said that the initiative will later be expanded to Cambodia and Lao with proposed protected areas in Changa Manga and Tharparkar, the Express Tribune reports.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is caused by the bacillus anthracis bacterium. Humans can become infected by anthrax by handling products from infected animals or breathing anthrax spores from infected animal products. Anthrax spores can live in soil for many years before coming to life in the right environmental conditions.