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Vultures: the next dodos?

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Construction
Topic: Feeding relationships

Vultures have suddenly become an endangered species in parts of the Indian subcontinent. In this activity students piece together data on the causes of the problem and look at the knock-on effects on local communities.

In the process students learn about toxins and their bioaccumulation.

UPDATE: In May 2006 India announced a ban on the manufacture of diclofenac. The veterinary drug had caused South Asian vulture numbers to drop by 95% over the previous 15 years.

Published: 5th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 9

Learning objectives

Indian vultures are on the brink of extinction. You will piece together the evidence to find out why. Then you'll find a way to save them.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

11 - 14 (KS3)
Plants for food QCA 9d - at each step of a food chain persistent toxins are accumulated in carnivores; this process is bio-accumulation. Identify key points about a scientific issue and recognise that there is often a balance of advantage and disadvantage in development.

Environment and feeding relationships QCA 7c - food chains and webs

Running the activity

Suggested time 20-50 minutes.
You can do the activity more quickly by giving students the food web instead of asking them to construct it as a preliminary activity. You can extend the activity to occupy a full lesson by asking them to produce a written summary of their findings.

Display the picture on page 1 of vultures bending over freshly-picked bones. Ask questions like these: what do vultures eat? Do they have any predators? Why are they dying out?
Page 1 sets the scene with a dramatic photo of vultures eating. It can be printed onto transparency or projected. This page also sets the task.
Page 2 carries statements from a range of people affected by the decline in vulture numbers. It can be printed onto transparency or projected, but students will probably find it easier to work with paper copies.

Students should be able to construct a food web using the ecologist's account.
Using the web and the accounts of the other characters they should be able to explain the cause and effects of the vulture's decline.
Diclofenec, a cheap painkiller, is increasingly being prescribed to keep lame cattle on their feet. If they die soon afterwards, enough of the drug is left in their bodies to kill any vultures that feed on them. Even small amounts of diclofenec will accumulate in vulture's bodies. Vultures do a vital job in India. They clear the countryside of dead animal remains. They are also vital to the success of the Parsi "sky burial" ritual. Their demise means more food for packs of rabid wild dogs and more remains left to undergo a slower and smellier process of microbial decay.

Groups of students could tell others in the class how they propose to save the vulture. Alternatively, they could find out how British cattle suspected of having BSE were disposed of when huge numbers of them had to be slaughtered at once.

News links

National Geographic
An easy to read summary of the current findings
New Scientist
A summary of the latest evidence that a veterinary drug retained by dead cattle may be causing kidney failure in vultures
National Geographic (archive)
An article from two years ago when the vulture decline was thought to be caused by a mystery virus.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Mar 28th, 2014

5 Star

Great for ym class

Reviewer: Jono Smith


May 19th, 2010

4 Star

Worked well with high ability Y9 group

Reviewer: George Richardson

Vultures: the next dodos? review

Dec 18th, 2007

5 Star

my class found it quite hard but they are SEN and cant read very well. Once i had read it out to them they were able to do it.

Reviewer: Angela Potts

Vultures: the next dodos? review

Nov 23rd, 2006

4 Star

I used this with a mid ability Y8 group at the end of a topic to 'pull' thier ideas together. It promoted a lot of interesting discussion, when used together with the websites recommended. At o lot of very different suggestions were presented to save the vultures.

Reviewer: liesl white

Vultures;the next dodos

Nov 7th, 2006

5 Star

This was an excellent final lesson for 7C. It really stretched the more able and the less able enjoyed finding our more about the vulture and the problems. The quality of written was high and the students had lots of ideas about how to save the vultures.
Sue Swan

Reviewer: Susan Swan


May 23rd, 2006

5 Star

My last year's year 7 class enjoyed this . They did further research and presented their findings to the rest of the class. It certainly made them realise there is never a simple easy answer to problems affecting the environment . I am currently teaching environment with year 7 this year and I have programmed this activity into my scheme of work. Thank you for such a good activity!

Reviewer: jane warwick

observing this upd8activity in a lesson

Jun 11th, 2005

5 Star

I was very pleased to be observing a Y9 lesson whilst a PGCE student used this activity with the class. The quality of pupil thinking and discussion was extremely high and it was a real pleasure to see pupils really engaged with the the scientific issues that are covered here in this activity.

The student teacher adapted the activity and presented the Y9 pupils with the evidence first and then encouraged them to speculate about the possible causes. The wesite links were very helpful to help prepare some differentiated breifing sheets for the Y9s.

well done upd8

Richard Waller
Comberton Village College, Cambridge

Reviewer: Richard Waller


Jun 4th, 2005

5 Star

This task worked really well for year 7 with some extra guidance. I also used it as a review with year 9 who were much more able to cope with analysing the data on their own. Can easily be used for a full hour,s lesson, my students came up with some wonderfully inventive ways to save the vultures!

Reviewer: Sheena Evans

Vultures: the next dodos? review

Apr 29th, 2005

4 Star

Excellent Opportunity for cross curricular links with Geography.
For a PGCE student UPD8 is THE best resource going!

Reviewer: Kerray Rawlinson

The upd8 store
200 lessons and assessments from as little as £4.95

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