Whither Himachal’s vulture breeding project?

December 15th, 2008 - 8:55 am ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Dec 15 (IANS) A project to help breed vultures in captivity has failed to take off in Himachal Pradesh in the last four years even as the scavenger bird teeters on the brink of extinction across Asia.”For setting up a vulture breeding centre, we (the state wildlife wing) had started the process of acquiring land in Solan in 2004,” an official of the wildlife wing told IANS, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district is home to a sizeable vulture population.

“Permission of the ministry of environment and forests was taken to capture 25 pairs each of white-backed and slender-billed vultures from their natural habitat to start captive breeding. But somehow the project did not become a reality.”

Behind the delay in this crucial project is the usual story of red tape. The official who had taken the initiative for the vulture breeding centre was transferred and there has been little action after that.

But time is running out for the vulture.

Three of the nine species of vultures - white-backed, slender-billed and long-billed - have declined catastrophically in India.

The wildlife official said a team of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the largest NGO involved in running vulture breeding centres across the country, had also inspected the spot in Solan district where the aviaries were to be set up.

“A team of the BNHS and Britain-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had visited the spot and promised to assist the state in establishing the centre. Even the RSPB had shown interest in funding the breeding centre,” Lalit Mohan, chief conservator of forests (Wildlife), who was associated with the project at that time, admitted.

The RSPB has been funding vulture conservation projects in India through the BNHS. These include breeding centres in West Bengal and Haryana.

While most vultures are found in the state’s Kangra district, the BNHS was said to be keen on Solan as it is close to Haryana’s Pinjore town, the location of another vulture breeding centre.

Vibhu Prakash, BNHS principal scientist (ornithology) who is running the vulture breeding centre in Pinjore, said Himachal Pradesh was the ideal location for setting up the centre.

“We will assist the hill state in establishing the breeding centre,” he said.

Prakash, who had documented the rapid vulture population decline in the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan in 1999, said almost 99 percent of the 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, primaily in India, Pakistan and Nepal. It’s time to save the scavengers from certain extinction through captive breeding,” he said.

Studies conducted by the BNHS attribute the decline of vultures to the overuse of an anti-inflammatory veterinary drug diclofenac, loss of bird 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.

State Forest Minister J.P. Nadda said the government would again review the possibility of establishing a vulture breeding centre in the state.

“The proposal to set up the vulture breeding centre was initiated during the tenure of the previous government. We will definitely help conserve nature’s scavengers by starting their breeding in captivity.,” he said.

“Our staff (the wildlife wing) has already made remarkable achievements in breeding some endangered species like the western tragopan and the cheer pheasant,” he said.

Himachal Pradesh is known as a storehouse of biodiversity. Its lush green valleys and snow-capped mountains nest 36 percent of India’s bird species.

Of the 1,228 species of birds that reportedly exist in India, 447 have been recorded in the hill state by the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment in its biodiversity report.

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