India’s captive-reared vulture release programme postponed
Eight captive-reared white-backed vultures, which were set to take flight during the first week of April in a first-of-its-kind programme in the country – to study the massive decline of the critically-endangered species – has been postponed owing to delay in the arrival of platform terminal transmitter (PTT), a device which monitors birds’ movements and behaviour.
The release of the birds has been delayed by at least seven to eight months owing to the delay in PTT’s arrival, said conservation group Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which is working on the project with Haryana government at the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre in Pinjore near the Bir Shikargaha Wildlife Sanctuary in Haryana. The centre is home to 290 vultures of three species – oriental white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture, and slender-billed vulture – found in India.
“PTT, which maps details such as altitude, location, feeding and micro-climatic conditions of the birds’ movement have not arrived yet. The import is taking time,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS. “It is not advisable to release the birds without these tracking devices. Secondly, we cannot release the birds during rains,” he said. Tagged with 30-gram devices, BNHS will help study the birds’ behaviour and survival in the wild. While six of the eight birds are between two and four years of age, the remaining two adults were rescued from the wild. “We are also waiting for the Himalayan griffon vultures to migrate to northern India from Central Asia and China during the winters, which is another reason for the delay. Because vultures are free roaming social birds, the griffons will act as guides for food, shelter and basic necessities,” said BNHS deputy director and vulture programme head, Vibhu Prakash.
There has been a significant reduction in the vulture population over the years owing to widespread use of veterinary drug diclofenac, a pain relief medication injected into cattle. The drug is found to be extremely toxic to the birds that fed on those cattle’s carcasses.
“We will track the birds based on the information provided by Argos satellite tracking, a satellite-based system which collects environmental data, four times a day,” said Dr Prakash.
“If a bird is at a particular location for more than two days, our wildlife biologists will go to the site to check. Overall, we will wait for two years to check any drug-related mortalities and then release more birds.”
Prakash said that while deaths due to consuming diclofenac had reduced considerably, other drugs being administered to cattle posed a great threat for these scavengers. “Two other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – ketoprofen and nimesulide – are also known to be toxic for these birds,” Prakash said.