Vultures are large carrion-eating birds. These natural scavengers use the dead bodies of animals as their food, thus catalysing the process of returning the minerals to the soil in this process they also prevent spreading of infectious diseases.
They are medium to large-sized birds of prey and they are spread across the tropics and subtropical regions. The species found in India fall under the category of old-world vultures. Their common name, scientific name, status as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list and their current population are provided below.
Overview of the Vultures found in India
Vultures are one of the most endangered species. Their survival is threatened due to the following: –
o Diclofenac: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug often administered to cattle. It is found in the carcasses on which vultures feed on. It is highly fatal to vultures even in small amounts as it causes their kidneys to fail through bioaccumulation of diclofenac.
o Poisoned carcasses: As an attempt to curb the population of certain local animals the carcasses of cattle are poisoned, but this victimises vultures instead when they feed to them.
o Cremation or burial of carcasses by the forest department: as a measure to discourage poaching Vultures prefer the carcasses of wild animals and this must not be denied to them.
o Human intervention: Use of carcasses by humans puts vultures’ food out of
o Collision with transmission lines and wind turbines (Bindra, Declining Vulture Population can cause a Health Crisis, 2018)
o Nesting: Ideal nesting for vultures is at the top of large trees, a majority of these trees have been cut down and therefore reduced their natural habitat.
Vulture Conservation in India
After the discovery of the steep decline in the number of vultures in India the Vulture Care Centre (VCC) in Pinjore, Haryana was set up in 2001. The operation focused on studying the causes of deaths of vultures and also rescues were brought in from nearby states of Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.This set-up, later on, became Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre which is the most well-known centre. With the increase in awareness and the high priority given to the preservation of the species more such centres cropped up. These Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centres (VCBCs) are located in the states where the natural habitat for vultures can be found.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
(MoEF&CC) is the key player in implementing the National
Action Plan (2006) on Vulture Conservation. Multiple
organisations coordinated with this ministry of the
Government of India to efficiently take measures to protect
vultures. The most prominent ones are BNHS and SAVE.
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is a wildlife
research organisation that promotes and is actively
involved in the conservation of nature across India.
Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) is a
consortium of 24 partner organisations collaborating to
reintroduce vultures back into the wild. It conducts research
on causes of death, safe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
and establishing vulture breeding and care centres.
Out of nine species of vultures present in India, the VCBCs focus on the three
species listed below. These were listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the late 1990s as it was discovered that the species declined by more than 90% in India.
The plan to preserve the species involved two parts ex-situ conservation and in-site conservation.
As vultures are slow-breeding birds, intervention is required to actively ensure an increase in population to provide a safe environment for the vultures. The Vulture Breeding and Conservation Centres located in various parts of India have each been successful establishments to different extents. International Vulture Awareness Day is on the first Saturday of September every year which is a day dedicated to acknowledging the work done by vulture conservationists and to raise awareness for these birds of prey
The Vulture Recovery Plan of 2006 has three parts as shown.
Reduction in the use of drugs like Diclofenac is key to reducing the mass deaths of vultures in India. It has been recognised as the primary cause for the reduced population from 4 crores to less than 4 lakhs of these species. (PTI, 2020)Accordingly, the Government has actively tried to reduce the availability of diclofenac for veterinary purposes through a ban imposed as per the Vulture ActionPlan in 2006. Later on, a safe alternative named Meloxicam came to light but its hurdles included a higher price and less effectiveness. (Bindra, Declining vulture population, 2018).
For example, Assam has one of the most concentrated areas ideal for vulture breeding and to help prevent their extinction the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre, Rani, Guwahati has been established in association with the Bombay Natural History Society and the Assam Forest Department in 2007. This centre has managed to breed 50 vultures and release them into the wild. (Ranade,2020).
In multiple ways, the preservation of vultures has been given importance at a national level. Besides this plan, the other conservation measures taken are as follows: –
Restrictions on use of Diclofenac
Surveys to measure the effectiveness of the ban on
Raising awareness to make the ban more effective
Advocacy for enforcement of the ban
Formation of understanding with the pharmaceutical industry
Testing drugs to determine ones safe for vultures
Intensive campaigns to ensure removal of toxic NSAIDs from the food supply of wild vultures especially in the Safe Zones
Conservation Breeding to form captive population
Surplus of captive-bred birds for reintroductions
Surveys to measure the population trend of vultures
Vulture Safe Zones are areas marked out as natural habitat of vultures. The main goal is to ensure that vultures can find non harmful food sources while living in the wild. Measures are
taken to ensure that the carcasses are free of diclofenac. These zones are present in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Assam. (Sayoni, Vulture
Conservation in India, 2019).
Jatayu Restaurants are areas in which there is a regular and safe supply of food provided to vultures to keep them in those areas.
Population Size Vultures were once numerous but with the entrance of major threats against their species in the last two decades, they are now a rare sight. The white-backed vulture was the most endangered among the species focused on by the VCBCs. Their numbers reduced by 99.9% by the early 2000s and the numbers of the long-billed and slender-billed vultures dropped by 97%. (Lenin, 2015).
As per surveys carried out in 2015, the vulture population in the wild is about 6000 white-backed vultures, 12000 long-billed vultures and 1000 slender-billed vultures. This improvement enabled BNHS to conclude that their population has stabilised. In the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centres, there are more than 700 vultures. (Daily News, 2019).
● When released into the wild from a VCBC the vultures tend to stay near the centre for a month during which they learn to fly well. Within the same time frame, they join other vultures and adapt to locating their food and water. (Singh, 2019)
● A major reason for the need to protect vultures is that their reduced
numbers have indirectly cost India $34billion in health. (Ranganathan, 2020)
Contribution by Individuals (Nature Club Surat, 2018)
Inform your local conservation club immediately if you observe a vulture in need of help.
Veterinary doctors should substitute diclofenac with meloxicam when providing treatment to cattle and if diclofenac is found to be used it must be reported to the district veterinary doctor.
Donate dead animals to vulture feeding sites instead of burying them
Support bird conservation initiatives through a donation to verified organisations or by volunteering.
Celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day on the first Saturday of September every year to spread awareness about the importance of vultures.
About the Blogger
Priya Sadanandan is a BCom graduate and loves to spread awareness about how-to-live in harmony with nature
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