The Social Costs of Keystone Species Collapse: Evidence From The Decline of Vultures in India


Environmental economist Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, presented his research on the public health impact of the near extinction of vultures in India. Vultures are efficient scavengers and feed only on carrion, which provided an important public health service by removing livestock carcasses from the environment. But the vulture population declined by as much as 95 to 99% in the 1990s; it’s believed they were inadvertently poisoned by consumer livestock carcasses that had been given a common painkiller, diclofenac, used by veterinarians.

Frank’s research found that, on average, all-cause human deaths increased by more than 4% in vulture-suitable districts of India after the birds nearly went extinct. 

Which species do we protect more of? Those that are warm and fuzzy? But not all important species are necessarily charismatic and vultures are a prime example of that.
Eyal Frank
University of Chicago


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