Flight of Highly Endangered Vultures Grounded by Red Tape
A wildlife conservationist has said that the absence of tracking devices is undermining the vulture conservation programme. Image for representative purpose. (Photo: iStock) 
A wildlife conservationist has said that the absence of tracking devices is undermining the vulture conservation programme. Image for representative purpose. (Photo: iStock) 

Flight of Highly Endangered Vultures Grounded by Red Tape

Brought back from virtual extinction, the flight to freedom of the endangered vultures, it seems, has been grounded by red-tapism in Haryana – literally!

Ornithologists say they are awaiting bird-tracking permissions, but it will be a few months more before eight highly endangered adult white-backed vultures, including six captive-bred, are introduced in the wild for the first time.

Satellite transmitters or platform terminal transmitters will be tagged to each of them to monitor their behaviour in the wild once they are released. The monitoring will pave the way for the release of other captive-bred vultures in nature.

Jayatu Conservation Breeding Centre: Saving Engandered Vulture Species

"We are awaiting final permission [from the Union Government]... hopeful for release later this year," SAVE Programme Manager Chris Bowden told IANS.

SAVE (Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction) comprises 14 organisations involved in saving the vultures from meeting the fate that befell the dodo and the passenger pigeon.

As the Gyps species of vultures teetered on the brink of extinction, conservation organisations successfully bred them in captivity and are now planning their reintroduction into the wild.

Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre near Pinjore in Haryana is Asia's first centre of its kind run by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) with the assistance of British charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The Pinjore centre, named after mythical bird Jatayu that tried to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana in the Hindu epic Ramayana, is home to 226 vultures. Two similar breeding centres are in Rani in Assam and Rajabhatkhawa in West Bengal.

The vultures in these breeding centres belong to three highly endangered white-backed, slender-billed and long-billed Gyps species.

A white-backed vulture. Image for representational purposes. (Photo: iStock)
A white-backed vulture. Image for representational purposes. (Photo: iStock)

Bowden, RSPB's Globally Threatened Species Officer, who monitors vulture breeding projects in India, said:

Indian vulture species have not been captive-bred before anywhere in the world, but closely-related species have been.

The Pinjore centre houses a majority of the world's captive stock of the three threatened vulture species. Sixty vulture fledglings were hatched in 2016 at the three centres.

"It's still early to give a figure of new arrivals for this year, but we are optimistic," Bowden, who is currently based in Bengaluru, said.

Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar last June released two captive Himalayan Griffon vultures in the wild from the Pinjore centre on an experimental basis. Both birds were wing-tagged and leg-ringed for identification, but not tagged with satellite transmitters.

It was part of Asia's first Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Programme under which the captive-bred birds were to be introduced in the wild.

Himalayan Griffon is not an endangered species, but is closely related to the Gyps vultures.

Himalayan Griffon vultures. Image for representational purposes. (Photo: iStock)
Himalayan Griffon vultures. Image for representational purposes. (Photo: iStock)

‘Lack of Tracking Devices Undermining The Programme’

The Pinjore team managed to monitor one released bird for a day before it disappeared while the second bird was tracked for almost a month. It was very difficult work since we didn’t have permission to satellite-track them, as planned. Perhaps they will be sighted again. But sadly, without the tracking devices, we have only a small chance to establish the success or failure of that programme.
Chris Bowden, SAVE Programme Manager

Contaminated Animal Carcasses Killing Vultures

BNHS studies in the past indicate that three of the nine species of vultures in India – oriental white-backed (Gyps bengalensis), slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris) and long-billed (Gyps indicus) – are on the brink of extinction.

The BNHS attributes the decline of these scavenging birds that help maintaining ecological balance in nature to the extensive use of diclofenac in treating cattle. The vultures that consumed the carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac died with symptoms of kidney failure.

Bowden said latest nationwide studies and surveys on the diminishing vulture population in India and other South Asian countries will be published very soon.

The biggest worry is that vulture population is significantly lower than we had previously thought.
Chris Bowden

BNHS Principal Scientist (Ornithology) Vibhu Prakash, who manages the Pinjore centre, had documented the rapid decline in vulture population in the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan in 1999.

According to him, almost 99 percent of the white-backed vultures and 97 percent of the long-billed vultures in the wild have vanished.

(This article is published in an arrangement with IANS)

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