Vulture Conservation Centre at Rani Doing Remarkable Work in Boosting Vulture Population
The vulture is one of nature’s most efficient scavengers. Out of the 9 different species of vultures found in India, 6 are exclusive to Assam. Once a very common sight in the skies, these graceful creatures are now on the verge of extinction with 3 of these 6 being critically endangered.
Efforts have been made to preserve these unique species and to ensure that they do not become extinct and one such venture is the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre, at Rani on the outskirts of Guwahati.
With their numbers rapidly decreasing, G Plus spoke to Sachin Ranade, a scientist with the Bombay Natural History Society and the Head of the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre, who pointed out a few reasons why the vulture population has decreased in the recent past years.
“We have six staff, one veterinary officer and I. For the last 20 years we are working and we are trying to save these birds from extinction. In early 1990s, we found that the vultures were declining in number and systematically we ruled out some cases like – things like there might be scanty food or loss of habitat. Ultimately we came to the conclusion that the vultures were dying due to the effects of a drug called Diclofenac which they consume from carcasses of domestic cattle,” he said.
“The drug is generally given to cattle and if the cattle die within 72 hours of administration this drug remains in the liver and kidneys of the cattle. Vultures are scavengers that feed on these cattle and they die of kidney failure. India has lost 99 percent of its vultures to this,” Ranade added.
The most common problem faced by these birds is from accidental poisoning as the drug damages their liver thereby taking down large colonies of these majestic creatures.
As it is, there are very few vultures that feed off disposed cattle carcasses, which means more food for stray dogs. In many cases, dogs harass livestock and farmers spray harmful chemicals and fatal poisons such as Carbofuran and Organophosphates to kill such dogs. The carcasses also attract vultures and these vultures thereafter end up consuming the dead carcasses of the animals, meant to kill stray dogs.
Over 500 vultures have lost their lives to carcass poisoning and the chemicals, Carbofuran and Organophosphates, have already been banned in Europe and the Americas due to its harmful nature. It is said that these chemicals have taken a large number of animals as well as human lives due to its widespread use in India and Africa.
The White-backed and the Slender-billed vultures from Assam are on the verge of extinction, to prevent which, the Bombay Natural History Society and the Assam Forest Department took up the initiative to tackle this issue by setting up the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre at Rani, Assam in 2007.
The Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre is a joint project of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Assam Forest Department for conservation of the two species of vultures which is the dire need of the day.
“We are working Ex-situ and In-situ; Ex-situ (offsite conservation) means we have brought some birds here and we are trying to breed those birds and we have been successful since last the 7-8 years. At the same time we are doing a different kind of work called In-situ (Onsite conservation or conservation of genetic resources in nature), trying to save these birds in the wild. We wanted to make some areas safe for vultures,” explained Ranade.
From the time this conservation centre was started in 2007, till date, it has managed to breed 50 vultures and have released them into the wild. The goal is to continue this till these winged scavengers reach a sizeable number.
Further explaining the poor population growth of vultures, Ranade explained that despite being long living birds, these birds have a very slow rate of reproduction. “Vultures live long, but the oldest birds here would be around 15 to 20 years old. The first five years of their lives, vultures do not breed. After that, one pair will be formed and the pair would lay a single egg per year,” he explained.
“Vultures particularly like to be in a group, in a flock. These birds are kept together here in a big aviary which is 100 feet long and 40 feet wide where they are free, they can fly, feed together, have water and take a bath there, just like in nature. We are breeding these birds and after a few years of successful breeding, we will send these birds back in the wild,” said Sachin Ranade.
The Conservation and Breeding Centre aims at establishing a population of 25 pairs of White-backed and the Slender-billed vultures and to produce a population of at least 200 birds in the next 15 years to eventually reintroduce them into the wild.