Miditech does a 'Vultures: Death Watch' special for NGC

MUMBAI: In India, the once ubiquitous vulture, is now on the brink of extinction. Over a decade, their numbers have dropped by almost 90 per cent.

Vultures: Death Watch produced by Miditech for National Geographic Channel International sets out to find what's killing vultures on the Indian sub-continent. Is it a virus? Could it be that the increased use of pesticides in the past decade, is resulting in contaminated carcasses?


In India the special airs on National Geographic 26 March at 7 pm. Ornithologists across the world are alarmed. Vultures: Death Watch explores the dependence of man on this carrion eater. The death of the vultures could herald the end of age-old traditions and cultures. The Parsi community who leave their dead out in the open for vultures to scavenge on, fear that this tradition that is closely linked to their faith, will die out.

Shot over a year, the special found that the problem isn't localised and has now spread beyond India to Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It follows different theories and scientists as they battle it out to find what is killing vultures in the subcontinent.



The film follows Parsi and television personality Cyrus Broacha as he finds out how deeply the disappearance of the vulture, affects the traditions of the Parsi community who leave their dead out for vultures to feed on. Maintaining purity of the body and soul is one of the key tenets of the Parsi faith and the show explores how the community has been affected by the disappearance of the vulture in India.

The challenge before Miditech: The biggest challenge was also to put into a coherent story, the scientific investigation that has troubled and perplexed experts across the world. What was killing the vultures? Keen journalistic research work coupled with a taut narrative looked to resolve a mystery that was unfolding even as the film was being made.

Miditech CEO Niret Alva, who executive produced, scripted and narrated the film says, "The real challenge was to construct a story like a whodunit given the fact that vultures are not the most charismatic of species and a lot people associate them with death and bad tidings."

The supervising producer Pria Somiah says, "Considering that consensus on what was killing the vulture was reached during the making of the film, makes it very topical and we hope the film helps, even if in a small way, mobilise efforts to find solutions to the problem that is wiping out vultures in India. Trying to get to the root of the problem has not been easy. The vulture is an extremely shy bird and the vulture crisis has resulted in their numbers dropping so drastically that sighting them in their natural nesting habitat is very difficult."

The show's associate director Devika Ahluwalia says, "It was possibly the worst summer Rajasthan had seen in some years. The temperatures were soaring to 46 degees celcius and the sun seemed unrelenting. And this is when we began our hunt for a longbilled or white backed pair who were courting each other."

Talking about his experiences shooting the film cameraman Alok Upadyay, on the other hand says, "After waiting for the rain abate for a few days, the crew and I climbed these 50 feet high cliffs to get a view of the wooded area. The equipment weighed tons and the one hour climb seemed endless. But as we settled down on a narrow ledge and took our positions, the vultures started a performance. The soared and dived and flew around us as though they knew where the camera was."

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