The Social Cost of Keystone Species Collapse: Evidence From the Decline of Vultures in India

This seminar is part of: Oxford Environmental Economics Seminar Series

Scientific evidence documents an ongoing mass extinction of species, caused by human activity. Allocating conservation resources is difficult due to scarce evidence on the damages from losing specific species. This paper studies the collapse of vultures in India, triggered by the expiry of a patent on a painkiller. Our results suggest the functional extinction of vultures – efficient scavengers who removed carcasses from the environment – increased human mortality by over 4% because of a large negative shock to sanitation. These effects are comparable to estimates of heat deaths from climate change. We quantify damages at $69.4 billion per-year.