Till 1980s, travellers in Punjab would often see hundreds of vultures feeding at carcass dumps by the roadside. But such spectacles have since receded into the distant past. However, the discovery of one such vintage congregation has brought cheer to vulture conservationists. More than 100 endangered Egyptian vultures have been sighted at a carcass dump on the road from Rupnagar to Anandpur Sahib near Ghanouli village.
The sighting of these vultures in such a large number has been taken note of by the Punjab forests and wildlife preservation department.
"Vultures were observed at this particular carcass dump in lesser number in the past years, but a large number spotted now shows they are breeding well and the feeding site is undisturbed and free of threats. I myself visited the site and counted more than 100 vultures," said chief wildlife warden Dhirendra K Singh, who is credited for discovering 13 breeding and critically endangered white-rumped vultures at the Railway Officers' Colony in Ferozepur in 2001, along with 20 vultures of the same species near Khalra (Amritsar) on the international border.
The Egyptian vulture (neophron percnopterus) is the smallest among Indian vultures. It has been declared a globally endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to Birdlife International, this long-lived species qualifies as endangered owing to a recent and extremely rapid population decline in India (presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac) combined with severe long-term declines in Europe (more than 50% in the past three generations) and West Africa, and ongoing declines through much of the rest of its African range.
The Egyptian vulture also feeds on refuse, human excreta, live prey and bird eggs, besides carcasses.
"There are many juveniles in this population near Rupnagar. This shows vultures are breeding well somewhere near the carcass dump. After the decline of the Gyps species of vultures, which were more efficient in carcass disposal than Egyptian vultures, this vacant niche has been occupied by the latter. Even stray dogs have been feeding on carcasses, along with rodents, and birds like egrets, crows etc. We will examine the Ghanouli site and look for vulture nests so that we can draw up a plan for conservation," Singh added.