Animal Art of the Day for International Vulture Awareness Day #2: Mansur’s vultures

Ustād Manṣūr (India, active 1590-1624)
“Red-Headed Vulture and Long-Billed Vulture,” c. 1615–20
Mughal, Jahāngīr Studio
folio from the Shah Jahan Album
ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
39.1 x 25.6 cm (15 3/8 x 10 1/16 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC verso

Ustad Mansur (active 1590-1624) was a court artist for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605 – 1627). He specialized in natural history art and was responsible for recording the emperor’s rare and exotic specimens, including an important image of the now-extinct Dodo that was recorded from life and in color. The two birds depicted here are the Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and the Long-billed Vulture, aka Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus). Unfortunately, both species are currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1,2), part of a larger Indian vulture crisis that has seen major population collapses in several species, largely blamed on diclofenac poisoning (an anti-inflammatory that was widely used in veterinary medicine to treat livestock but has proven highly toxic to the scavenging vultures).

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