Captive-born and critically-endangered vultures are having their first taste of interaction with free-ranging wild vultures at the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) at Bir Shikar Gah, Pinjore. Only one barrier of wire mesh separates the eight Oriental White-rumped and two Himalayan griffon vultures in the pre-release enclosure from visiting griffon, White-rumped and Cinerous vultures. These 10 vultures in the enclosure, of which the White-rumped were bred in captivity, are being prepared for eventual release in the wilderness after it is determined that the environment is free of the drug, diclofenac, and other such killer veterinary formulations. The 10 vultures were placed in this enclosure on November 13, 2015, at a ceremony attended by Haryana chief minister ML Khattar. These 10 birds are earmarked for the first-ever full release into the wilderness of captive-bred vultures.
“A maximum of 32 visiting vultures have been counted outside the enclosure. The good thing is that these visiting vultures are also roosting nearby. We are putting out feed for the visiting vultures next to the enclosure so that captive birds get familiar with wild birds. When we feel the environment is free of killer drugs, we will remove the wire mesh one night, so that the captive birds do not notice the change. As per the plan, birds will remain at the spot for some time, though free to fly, will merge with wild birds, and gradually learn to forage and live on their own. Wild vultures can chaperon their transit to freedom and self-reliance,” said Dr Vibhu Prakash, who heads this pioneering project.
Union environment and forest minister Prakash Javadekar was scheduled to visit the centre on January 22 to release a captive griffon vulture with wing tags. Griffons have not been captive bred at the centre but were rescued from the wilderness. Scientists hoped to track this griffon to test the waters before they release captive bred vultures into the wilderness. However, Dr Prakash says the minister’s visit got cancelled.
From a population estimated at four crore in 1980s, Indian vultures suffered a catastrophic decline and numbered a lakh in 2008. The Union government’s vulture action plan envisages the release into the wilderness of 600 pairs of three critically-endangered vulture species in the decade following the first successful full release.
Breaking the sound barrier
Have you ever wondered what sound shoes make when they walk, trudge or run over carpets of ‘kachnar’ flowers at Sukhna Lake? Or wondered how it breaks the back of the horticulture department’s gardeners to daily sweep blooms and leaves and consign them to an out-of-sight dump a kilometre away? Well, if you can restrain your heartbeat for a few moments and strain your ears to pick up sounds beyond the familiar thud of your shoes clocking fitness miles on the Argus app, the faintest notes of flowers being squelched will slip through the barrier of your cultured eardrums. The fall is especially poignant when winds blow in from a south-easterly direction and flowers are swept across the concrete walkway like beams of purple, mauve and pink. As if nature was generously decorating a marriage entrance with cut flowers, only to gracefully submit and be trampled upon by a triumphant ‘baraat’. Till May-June, the Sukhna gardeners see no relief in sight as they will be besieged with falling leaves of different trees, scattered all over by the wandering, mischievous winds.
I asked the gardeners if no use could be derived from these petals? Though some people do pluck ‘kachnar’ pods for cooking, fallen flowers are removed as speedily as plastic litter is. Senior officials think the bombardment of blooms gives Sukhna a ‘’dirty, unkempt look’’. But one gardener recalls officers of yore like the then UT adviser, Neeru Nanda, whose love for flora was legendary. Nanda had ensured that fallen blooms and leaves were turned into natural manure by filling up a compost pit. She would even issue minute instructions on how flower beds were to be hoed so that their roots were not harmed and fallen leaves buried in that very soil to nurture the parent plant.
A handsome sambar was rescued in the nick of time from dogs at Nabipur village near the Harike wildlife sanctuary. The stag had taken refuge in the village pond, which was a quagmire compounded by proliferation of hyacinth. The hapless deer had been hounded across the fields by dogs. Nabipur sarpanch Kashmir Singh tipped off the Punjab forest department staff, which reached the spot and placed ladders across the pond to get to the stag and rope it, thereby denying the salivating hounds some juicy venison. The stag was later released at the nozzle point of the sprawling sanctuary, just upstream of the Harike barrage. Those who think that sambars are not good swimmers and can ‘’drown in water’’ need to see the way they swim across the Beas and Sutlej after the confluence point of the two rivers. The surge of water from the confluence till the barrage is so strong that it can easily sweep large boats and send them crashing into the barrage. However, sambars and wild boars are such powerful swimmers that they swim across that wide and swift water flow in a straight, unwavering line.