Solar Replaces Vultures for Traditional "Sky Burials", but Vultures May Come Back

Vultures in India photo
CC BY 2.0. Tom Thai

Tom Thai/CC BY 2.0

From composting your corpse to a woodland burial, we've seen plenty of ways to reduce the footprint of your final resting place.

But one practice has always struck me as particularly green: sky burial.

Practiced by Zoroastrians, who believe that cremation or traditional burial pollutes the earth, sky burial is a method of disposal that involves exposing a body to the hot sun where it will be devoured by vultures and other birds of pray.

But as reported on NPR, it turns out that the Parsi community in and around Mumbai, India has been experiencing difficulties with sky burial. A sudden crash in vulture populations, caused by poisoning from livestock medications, and an increasingly urban population that doesn't necessarily like to see dead bodies being eaten by birds, have meant that the Parsi have had to explore alternatives because bodies were taking too long to decompose/be devoured.

Interestingly, some groups introduced solar concentrators, which used the heat of the sun to dehydrate bodies and thus reduce odor and hygiene issues. But these concentrators were expensive, next to useless in monsoon season, and the heat from them actually discouraged other scavengers like crows from approaching the bodies during the day.

It turns out that the most efficient replacement for vultures might just be vultures. And moves are finally underway to see them deployed:

The success of the program has led to a new proposal to start a vulture sanctuary in Doongerwadi. And that could make life easier for the Parsis and their neighbors, says Homi Khusrokhan, president of the Bombay Natural History Society.
"For years, Parsis have been trying to manage without vultures," Khusrokhan says. "But obviously, if the vultures could be brought back, [the Parsis] would be delighted. And it's always been an impossible task, so this is the first time it's really become feasible to do."

I guess this is just one more reminder that while renewable energy technologies are cool, sometimes we are better off letting nature do what it does best and enjoying her services.