Migratory vultures fill gap left by dying Indian species

December 21st, 2008 - 10:57 am ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Dec 21 (IANS) As numbers of white-backed, slender-billed and long-billed vultures - three of the nine species found in India - decline across the country, migratory vultures have taken their space.Ornithologists attributed the increase in arrival of the migratory species - the Eurasian griffon, the Egyptian vulture and the Himalayan griffon - in the region to plenty of food being available now.

“Large flocks of the Eurasian griffon, the Egyptian vulture and the Himalayan griffon can be spotted these days feeding on carrion, insects, eggs and droppings of carnivores in Himachal Pradesh, especially in the hills of Kangra, Bilaspur, Una and Hamirpur districts,” Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) S.K. Guleria told IANS.

“Of late, the arrival of the migratory vulture species has increased,” he added.

“Earlier, the Eurasian griffon was spotted rarely in Pong Dam wetlands in the Kangra valley. Now, a huge flock of Eurasian griffons along with Himalayan griffons, Egyptian vultures and other raptors can be spotted,” said Range officer (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal.

He said last week he had sighted nearly 90 Himalayan griffons on a single day around the wetlands.

The Pong Dam reservoir, spread over an area of 307 sq km, has the distinction of being one of the important winter grounds for local and migratory species in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Every winter more than 100,000 migratory birds visit the wetlands.

Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist (Ornithology), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), attributed the increase in arrival of the migratory vultures to the easy availability of food.

The BNHS is the largest NGO involved in running vulture breeding centres across the country.

“The arrival of the migratory vulture species has increased because they have free access to carcasses with the decline of local species of vultures, nature’s most efficient scavengers,” he said.

“Stray dogs and other raptors are multiplying fast because there is plenty of food,” he added.

Prakash, who had documented the rapid vulture population decline in Rajasthan’s Keoladeo National Park in 1999, said almost 99 percent of white-backed vultures and 97 percent of long-billed vultures had been wiped out.

“Only 200 pairs of the slender-billed vulture are left in the world, primarily in India, Pakistan and Nepal,” he said.

Studies conducted by the BNHS attribute the decline of vultures to the overuse of an anti-inflammatory veterinary drug diclofenac, loss of habitat, use of pesticides, competition for food among other scavengers and change in livestock management.

“Vultures that consumed the carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac died with symptoms of kidney failure,” Prakash said.

Now, the central government has imposed a ban on manufacturing formulations of diclofenac for veterinary use.

Prabhat Bhatti, a bird watcher, said “the Eurasian griffon, the Egyptian vulture and the Himalayan griffon are common these days in the Ropar and Nangal wetlands in Punjab”.

“The Egyptian vultures can even be seen sifting garbage near villages and towns,” he said.

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