Alarmed by the drop in the number of vultures in the city, the Parsi community and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) have joined hands to start a vulture breeding centre at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli.
The Parsi community is concerned about the dwindling vulture population as Zoroastrian tradition requires them to place the bodies of their dead atop a tower — the Tower of Silence at Malabar Hill — and expose them to the sun and to birds of prey. “Due to the decline in the vulture population, the decomposition process has become slower,” said Khojestee Mistry, trustee of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.
The first in the state, the centre will take a year to set up once government permissions are in place. The project is expected to cost about Rs. 2 crore.
“There are two species of critically endangered vultures, the white-backed vulture and the long-billed vulture. We will breed these two varieties,” said Dr Vibhu Prakash, deputy director and head, vulture conservation breeding programme, BNHS. “The vulture population has declined by more than 99 per cent and is diminishing at the rate of more than 40 per cent annually.”
The centre plans to breed 25 pairs each of both species and release them in batches so that in the next 15 years there are 100 pairs.
“Once the breeding centre is established, we want to house some birds in an aviary in the Tower of Silence,” said Mistry.
The BNHS has three breeding centres in Assam, West Bengal and Haryana, and will get the birds to the city from one of these centres.
The fall in vulture population is said to be because of the veterinary use of the drug Diclofenac, to treat domestic livestock on whose flesh the vultures feed. The drug was banned in 2005.