Roosting site with rare vultures found near Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve
While out on lockdown duty in April, a forest officer in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna stumbled upon one of the very few roosting sites for vultures in India. The officer’s rare spotting included 150 to 160 vultures of four species, along with the critically-endangered white-rumped vulture and endangered Egyptian vulture, roosting off the Katni-Panna highway, about 60 km from the Panna Tiger Reserve.
Hemant Yadav, deputy conservator of forests, Panna south division, came across this roosting site on his surveillance duty. “I saw four species of vultures—white rumped vulture; Egyptian vulture; King vulture and the Indian vulture or the Long-billed vulture. I also saw several juveniles there. It’s possibly a habitat favourable for their breeding,” said Yadav. A cowshed (gaushala) nearby, which usually disposes dead cattle in a perennial stream (nallah), provides the food and water needed.
Yadav says, the state forest department had found close to 6,000 vultures during an estimation exercise of the bird’s numbers in protected areas, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in 2016. However the department didn’t conduct any estimation of vultures outside of the protected areas.
The forest officer says has pointed to two factors that could have led to this newly developed suitable habitat for vultures.
“I found that the ravines in this roosting site and the availability of food has led to development of a suitable habitat,” Yadav added.
Vultures disappeared in large numbers in the mid-’90s largely due to ingestion of residues of the veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in cattle carcasses.
According to a study published in Journal of Bombay Natural History Society in 2007, the decline of vultures was first documented at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Subsequently, their numbers declined across the country. Surveys were conducted in 2007 on the same tracks as surveys conducted in the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Repeated surveys conducted from March to June 2007 found three species of vultures — White rumped vultures, Long billed and Slender billed vultures — continued to decline at an alarming rate. Numbers of White-rumped Vulture, for example, declined by 99.9 per cent between 1992 and 2007.
Another survey was conducted and published by Bird Conservation International in 2017 which found that populations of all three species continued to remain very low but the rapid decline of White-rumped vulture has slowed and may have even reversed to an extent since ban of diclofenac in 2006.
The numbers of Long billed vultures continued to decline while the trends for Slender billed vultures cannot be determined.
Experts have suggested strict discontinuation in usage of diclofenac can bring vultures back in India’s biodiversity.
“There were millions of vultures in the open countryside and even in cities 30 years ago. More than protecting the sites, its important the use of diclofenac is stopped completely. Its use is banned but it is available and people give it to cattle. Vultures will be back. We are seeing that their decline is not as rapid now as it used to be in the 90’s and early 2000’s,” said Asad Rahmani, former director of BNHS and veteran ornithologist.
“The discovery of a yet-unrecorded roosting site for critically endangered vultures is heartening news and only underlines the importance of stepping up protection of forests outside of protected areas, which are wildlife rich. This area also has other important species-tigers, bears, leopards among others, and must be managed and conserved from the wildlife perspective as part of the Greater Panna landscape,” said Prerna Singh Bindra, conservationist.