Fifteen years after it was established, the vulture-breeding centre at Pinjore released a pair of the birds to the wild for the first time. The historic release of two Himalayan Griffon vultures was carried out from Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre by Union minister of state for environment Prakash Javadekar and Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who termed it ‘ghar wapsi’ (homecoming).
The centre had been fostering these two vultures for 10 years, and found them fit for release now, also because Himalayan Griffon is not an endangered species. Though the vultures were yet to actually leave the centre even after being released, centre authorities said the assimilation would happen soon enough.
The centre, spread over five acres, has a total of 214 vultures of four species —76 Oriental White-Backed, 29 Slender-Billed, 107 Long-Billed and the two Himalayan Griffon vultures that are now released. No other centre houses such a large number of vultures anywhere in the world.
Released, but still around
For the release, a goat carcass was placed in the open while Khattar and Javadekar pulled up the lids of the vulture enclosures. But the birds did not fly out of the centre premises; and in fact flew back from the exit gates. Neither did they touch the goat carcass.
Yet, Dr Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist, Bombay Natural History Society, who heads the centre, said, “This is perfect; I am happy.” He reasoned that the vultures would take time to leave: “Soon, wild vultures will come here and these two will join them. They did not come today because of the rush of people.”
“I want the two to stay around for some time, actually. They are suspicious of the open world as of now,” he added.
Next up: The endangered species
He added that the two were wing-tagged and rings were put on their feet for identification. “We have to monitor their behaviour; see if they can fly long distances, get food on their own, and adjust to wild conditions,” he said. Food would continue to be provided for these birds for at least a year.
These birds were put in the pre-release aviary on November 13, 2015, and fed on whole goat carcasses with skin to make them used to what they would encounter in the wild. Wild vultures were also attracted close to the aviary by putting out carcasses; and a number of Himalayan, Cinereous and White-Backed vultures visited, leading to interaction among the wild and captive birds.
“After looking at the success of the release of Himalayan Griffons, we will release the endangered species in the wild in the next five to six months. They would be satellite-tagged. We had applied through the telecommunications department for that for these birds too, but the permission did not come. We will now apply through the government,” said Dr Prakash. Next on the exit list are the White-Backed species.
Also, the environment minister handed over 10 captive-bred vultures that have siblings at the Pinjore centre, to authorities of the Van Vihar National Park, Madhya Pradesh, as part of genetic management of captive populations. Javadekar said the central government was committed to providing scientific and financial support to conservation programmes across the country.
Vulture population had crashed in the country due to veterinary use of the drug diclofenac, a pain killer. Vultures died after they fed on carcasses of animals that had the drug in their body. The central government banned diclofenac for veterinary use in 2006.
‘Need more money’
Talking to HT, Dr Vibhu Prakash, who has been taking care of the centre for the last 15 years, said fund shortage remained a concern. “The government just provided the land and gives administrative support. All these years, we have been running it with the help of donations from NGOs,” he said.
He added that food alone for vultures costs Rs 1 crore spent on goat carcasses. “After working for 15 years, we got Rs 99 lakh from the central government; and the Haryana government provided Rs 26 lakh. It should be totally government-funded,” he said.
The funding for the centre, which has a staff of around 15, has largely come from international agencies such as the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species, the UK government fund, and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK.
POINT BY POINT
Know the centre: Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre at Pinjore (Haryana), spread over five acres, has 214 vultures of four species — 76 Oriental White-Backed, 29 Slender-Billed, 107 Long-Billed and the two Himalayan Griffon that were released on Friday but would continue to be fed for while here. No other centre houses such a large number of vultures anywhere in the world.
Why the centre: It has been working on battling against the downslide in population of vultures. Vulture population had crashed in India due to veterinary use of diclofenac, a pain killer. Vultures died after they fed on carcasses of animals that had the drug in their body. It was banned in 2006.
How serious: According to information provided at the Pinjore centre, population of two of India’s commonest vultures has declined by 90 % during the last decade. The Indian White-Backed and Long-Billed vultures were once regarded as very common in India, but now they are listed as critically endangered by BirdLife International, UK.
What’s the fuss: The release of the two vultures on Friday marks the conclusion of 10-year breeding, and is the first such release from this centre. Successful release and assimilation of the birds is the final success of the centre.
Why Himalayan Griffon: This species is not endangered, thus the two birds have been released first to know response. Later, the endangered species would follow.