Scavenging isn’t getting any easier for the vultures.
Forest officials had last month reported the return of some 60 vultures on a 30 sq km expanse in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district. By Monday, 21 of them were killed by pesticides meant for stray dogs.
An army of canines with a penchant for domesticated goats had for some time been troubling the villagers of Akhoiphutiya, some 20 km from district headquarters Sivasagar. They struck back by sprinkling pesticides – commonly used in tea estates around – on the carcass of a goat killed by the dogs.
The carcass was subsequently dumped on the edge of the expanse behind the village.
Early Monday morning, passersby noticed the vultures sprawled around two carcasses – one of the goat and the other of a dog that had fed on its flesh. “We rushed immediately after some people informed us about the dead birds,” Sivasagar DFO Utpal Bora told Hindustan Times.
Bora and his team found 18 vultures had died on the spot while six more were barely alive. The officials buried the carcasses, removed the dead birds for autopsy and took the surviving six to Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) at Kaziranga some 130 km south.
“Six of the dead vultures were slender-billed, a highly endangered species. Seven were Himalayan griffons while the rest were white-backed,” Bora said, adding three more vultures had similarly died last week at Dikhowmukh, 30 km from Akhoiphutiya.
Bora, however, was worried about a group of vultures villagers said had flown away after possibly feeding on the pesticide-laced carcasses. “We have sounded an alert to locate these birds, dead or alive,” he said.
According to Debajit Das of the Vulture Rescue Centre at Rani near here, the six vultures were under 48-hour observation at CWRC. “The condition of one of these birds is critical while the others are stable,” he said.
Two of the survivors are slender-billed, two Himalayan griffons and two white-backed.
“The concentration of the pesticide was so high that the birds died within 10-15 minutes after feeding on the carcass. We were lucky to have administered antidotes and intravenous fluids in time to neutralize the effect of the poison,” Das said.
He added heavy rainfall had almost confounded their efforts to save the birds. “The vultures were running the risk of hypothermia. They were sufficiently warmed up at the site before being shifted to CRWC.”
Meanwhile, forest officials said they had lodged an FIR against a villager responsible for the death of three vultures at Dikhowmukh. “There has been no follow-up by the police,” a senior officer grumbled.