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Observing the Lammergeier Ossuary

Rev.: 25 September 2013

Tunganath (~3600m), Uttarakhand, India on 6th July 2009

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Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus aureus - Ossuary

Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus aureus - Ossuary
or the bone breaking site
at Tunganath (~3600m), Uttarakhand, India

A sudden crack shatters Himalayan stillness...

The Lammergeier has a bizarre habit of dropping large bones from high up on to the rock surfaces to break them partially. Afterwards it devours the bones. These bone breaking sites are known as ossuaries. This ossuary is an inverted V shaped section of a precipice 200-300 metres from the track to Chandrashila. The rocky face is on one lower side of the "V", next to a mule track. An ideal spot for the Lammergeier as the prevailing wind will not deflect the large falling bone. It is visible in the centre of the photo. The inset shows a broken bone.

Thanks to Negi of Kakdagad camp for noting the site. He heard the crack of a bone landing on the rocks and then saw the Lammergeier in action the next round.

Out of this bone breaking habit, the bird came to be known as bone breaker and ossifrage. It is also called the bearded vulture and bearded eagle whence the scientific name Gypaetus barbatus. And "Lammergeier" or Lamb Vulture comes from the Alpine stories, now discredited, of its carrying off lambs over precipices.

An interesting extract from the JOURNAL, BOMBAY NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY, Vol.XVIII, p500
W. OSBORN, Lieut.-General, Naggur, Kulu Punjab, 12th January 1908.

The statement that the Bearded Vulture hurls animals over the tremendous precipices of the Himalayas is, I think, proved by the fact that the Goralís shoulder blade I found in the stomach of the bird killed by me was broken in two pieces, as though from a fall, for it is impossible that the bird could have done this with its bill.

It is probable that the Lammergeyer keeps a good look out for such animals as may fall, or be thrown over the precipices of the mountains which it frequents. I remember a sad accident which happened a few years ago, when two officers were shooting on the Himalayan ranges. One of them was following up a wounded bear which suddenly charged, knocking him, and his shikari over the precipice, the impetus of the charge carrying the bear over as well. His companion who was observing all this from the top of the mountain, and who told me the story of the accident very shortly after it happened, mentioned that it took him about four hours to get down to the foot of the precipice, and there he found the three bodies shattered almost beyond recognition. He added that the Lammergeyers had already got at them.

 

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