In Bengal, 2 rescued vultures fitted with transmitters to be released in winter
Two rescued vultures fitted with transmitters to monitor their movement and well being will be released in the wild in Bengal after November.
The two birds, fitted with platform transmitter terminals (PTT), will be part of a batch of six Himalayan griffon vultures that would be released anytime this winter, said authorities in charge of the Rajabhatkhawa vulture breeding centre in Alipurduar district, about 720 km away from Kolkata.
The PTTs, each weighing 20 grams and costing ₹7 lakh, have already been imported by the Bombay Natural History Society from the US. “Two of the birds would be fitted with PTTs. Fitted with a GPS system, the PTT would keep track of the released vultures, their whereabouts and we can track them if they survive in the wild,” said Soumya Chakraborty, who is in charge of the vulture breeding centre in Rajabhatkhawa.
“The objective of first releasing the rescued Himalayan griffon vultures is to be doubly sure that once the captive birds are released they would survive on their own,” said Sachin Ranade, assistant director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Both Chakraborty and Ranade said that this will be the first release of vultures in the country fitted with transmitters.
The BNHS runs four vulture breeding centres in the country – one in Pinjore in Harayana set up in 2001, Rajabhatkhawa in Bengal’s Buxa Tiger Reserve set up in 2005, Rani in Assam set up 2007 and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh set up in 2009.
Ranade said once they are sure that the griffon vultures can survive successfully, the types of vultures bred in Rajabhatkhawa would be released.
Winter has been chosen to release the griffon vultures since they start arriving in the winter months.
In 2017, there were about 10,000 white-backed vultures, 11,000 long-billed vultures and 1,000 slender-billed vultures in the country. “West Bengal has hardly 100 white-backed vultures in the wild,” said Ranade adding that the other two critically endangered species – long-billed vultures and slender-billed vultures – are also very few in number in Bengal.
There are 86 white-backed vultures, 17 slender-billed vultures and 27 long-billed vultures at Rajabhatkhawa breeding centre spread over 5 acres. Out of them, 60 were born in captivity.
Animesh Bose, programme coordinator of Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF) said, “In the run-up to the release of the vultures in the wild, BNHS, forest department of West Bengal and HNAF will organize a series of awareness programmes in different parts of the country so that diclofenac is not used for veterinary purpose. Though its veterinary use was banned, we suspect that quacks might be using it in the countryside.”
Many believe that feeding on carcass laced with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug, is one of the causes of the reduction of the number of vultures in the country.
Nearly 99 per cent of the vultures in India perished over the past two decades, said Animesh Bose, holding diclofenac substantially responsible for it.
On Saturday, a rally was taken out at Fulbari on the outskirts of Siliguri city that is observed as International Vulture Awareness day. It was organized by BNHS, the forest department of the government of West Bengal and HNAF. More than 300, including school children, took part in the programme.