M3 Features

Vulture Conservation: Bengal shows the way

November 20, 2013

Vultures, one of the most important scavenging birds, are an endangered species now. A decline in their numbers is a matter of grave concern for our eco-system. The threat of extinction has been looming large over the vultures in South Asia for over a decade. Vultures breed only once a year and lay only one egg, making the breeding process slow.

However, West Bengal has shown the nation, and the world at large, a way to conserve the vanishing birds. A project for vulture conservation was undertaken in Rajabhatkhawa, near the Buxa tiger reserve, and it received global attention as well.

Importance of the bird

Though not beautiful, and seemingly dangerous for many, vultures act as scavengers to keep the environment clean as they feed on carcass. They also eat corpses left behind by predators. Thus, vultures prevent spread of diseases from decomposing carcasses. Owing to the highly corrosive acid in their stomach, they are able to digest decomposing carcasses infected with diseases such as anthrax, cholera, botulinum toxin, rabies and the likes, thus preventing the spread of these deadly diseases.

Banned drug – cause for extinction

Diclofenac sodium is a drug commonly administered to livestock. This drug finds its way into the system of vultures when they feed on the dead livestock. As a result, vultures suffer from kidney and liver failure and eventually die. Although government of India has banned the use of diclofenac on the animals, the medicine is sold freely at the medical stores.

International Workshop for Vulture conservation

An international workshop was held at Rajabhatkhawa, with an aim to increase awareness about the threat to the population of vultures, and the possible repercussions on the ecology. The workshop, which lasted three days, also highlighted the success of the conservation process. Vulture breeding experts from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and Indonesia were part of this programme. The participating experts brainstormed on the ways to conserve the species at the brink of extinction. Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) was the organiser of this workshop.

Conservation Centre at Rajabhatkhawa

•   The breeding centre was started as part of a conservation programme by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in collaboration with the state forest department.

•   This centre hosts three Indian vulture species listed by the World Conservation Union as critically endangered. They are slender-billed vulture (Gyps tebuirostris), Asian white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus).

•   92 vultures are conserved at present at the centre.

•   In India, slender-billed vulture’s breeding has been possible only in this centre.

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Comments (5)
Param Reply
November 20, 2013
Educating livestock owners about not using diclofenac is the way out, or not disposing the dead cows in the open, and burying them.
Apurva Reply
November 20, 2013
They may not look great, but vultures have a very big role to play in keeping the environment clean.
Oindrila Reply
November 20, 2013
They do look creepy... but they play such an important role!
chandrasekhar Reply
November 20, 2013
Awareness should be spread among the society. Many people are not aware about their importance.
Sampurna Reply
November 20, 2013
Scavenger birds like vultures and crows are very important for our society. The project should draw attention of the whole world
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