Vulture conservation in India is a crucial effort aimed at protecting and reviving the declining populations of vultures in the country. The population decline was noticed in the 1990s, and since then numerous efforts have been made to reclaim the vulture population. Read here to learn more.
Researchers have recorded the first instance of captive breeding of the Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) in India at the Assam State Zoo, Guwahati.
Categorized as ‘Near Threatened’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, the Himalayan vulture is a common winter migrant to the Indian plains and a resident of the high Himalayas.
Vultures play a significant role in maintaining ecological balance by scavenging and consuming animal carcasses, thereby preventing the spread of diseases and maintaining the cleanliness of the environment.
Vultures, also known as condors, are large birds of prey with over 20 species in the world.
Why did the Vulture population decline?
The vulture population decline is a significant conservation concern that has been observed in various regions around the world, including India.
- The decline in vulture populations has been particularly severe in South Asia, including India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
- In the late 1990s and early 2000s, India witnessed a drastic decline in vulture populations, primarily due to the widespread use of a veterinary drug called diclofenac.
- This drug, when consumed by livestock, caused severe kidney failure in vultures that fed on the carcasses of treated animals.
- As a result, vulture populations declined by over 97% in some regions, leading to an ecological crisis.
The primary reasons for the vulture population decline are as follows:
- Diclofenac Poisoning: The widespread use of the veterinary drug diclofenac in livestock led to the sharp decline of vulture populations in South Asia. When vultures feed on carcasses of animals that were treated with diclofenac, they suffer from severe kidney failure and die. This drug was widely used to treat cattle, and the contamination of animal carcasses with diclofenac proved to be lethal for vultures.
- Secondary Poisoning: In addition to diclofenac poisoning, vultures are also affected by secondary poisoning. Scavengers, including vultures, consume the carcasses of animals that were poisoned by pesticides or other toxic substances. As a result, vultures face the risk of ingesting these harmful chemicals, leading to further declines in their populations.
- Habitat Loss: The loss of natural habitats due to urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural expansion has negatively impacted vultures. Destruction of nesting sites, roosting areas, and food sources reduces the availability of suitable habitats for vultures.
- Collisions with buildings: Vultures are susceptible to collisions with power lines, wind turbines, and other infrastructure. These accidents can lead to injuries or fatalities, further contributing to the decline in their numbers.
- Poaching and Hunting: In some regions, vultures have been deliberately targeted and killed due to superstitions, traditional beliefs, or for use in illegal wildlife trade.
- Lead Poisoning: Vultures may be exposed to lead poisoning by consuming carcasses of animals that were hunted using lead ammunition. Lead poisoning can be fatal to vultures.
- Disease Outbreaks: Outbreaks of diseases such as avian pox and avian flu have also had adverse effects on vulture populations.
The drastic decline in vulture populations has ecological consequences, as vultures play a critical role in maintaining a clean environment and preventing the spread of diseases by scavenging on animal carcasses.
Recognizing the severity of the situation, conservation efforts have been initiated to address these challenges.
Measures include the banning of diclofenac, the establishment of vulture conservation breeding centers, rescue and rehabilitation programs, public awareness campaigns, and collaboration with international organizations for research and conservation efforts.
While some progress has been made in stabilizing vulture populations in certain areas, continued efforts are essential to ensure the recovery and long-term survival of these ecologically important birds.
Vulture conservation remains a global priority to protect these valuable scavengers and the vital ecological services they provide.
Vulture population in India
The Indian subcontinent is home to 9 vulture species.
Vulture Conservation in India
To address the vulture decline and conserve these important birds, several conservation initiatives and strategies have been implemented in India, including:
India’s Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025 has also laid down various measures, including enhancement of conservation breeding programs, monitoring populations, and setting up rescue centers.
Vulture Safe Zones: Identifying and designating vulture safe zones, where the use of diclofenac and other harmful veterinary drugs is banned, to provide safe feeding areas for vultures.
Ban on Diclofenac: The government of India took measures to ban the veterinary use of diclofenac to prevent its consumption by livestock.
- Recently, other drugs like Ketoprofen and Aceclofenac have also been banned in 2023.
Vulture Conservation Breeding Centers: Establishing vulture conservation breeding centers to breed and rear vultures in captivity releasing them back into the wild to augment wild populations.
Vulture Restaurants: Creating vulture restaurants where safe food is provided to vultures to supplement their diet and ensure their survival.
Rescue and Rehabilitation: Setting up facilities for the rescue, rehabilitation, and treatment of injured or sick vultures.
Research and Monitoring: Conducting research and monitoring programs to study vulture populations, behavior, and ecological requirements.
Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating and raising awareness among the public, farmers, veterinarians, and other stakeholders about the importance of vultures and the threats they face.
Involving local communities in vulture conservation efforts, as their cooperation is essential for the success of conservation initiatives.
Collaborating with international organizations and experts to share knowledge, expertise, and best practices in vulture conservation.
News on vulture conservation in India
India’s first captive breeding of the Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) has been successfully conducted at Guwahati Zoo.
- Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Assam Forest Department conducted this project.
- Captive- breeding program aims to conserve healthy populations of animals in captivity while safeguarding the genetic health of the animals.
- The Himalayan vulture is a common winter migrant to the Indian plains. As the Himalayan Vulture is a high-altitude bird, it is not usual for the species to breed in low land with tropical and humid climates.
- France was the first country where the species was bred in captivity.
As a result of these conservation efforts, there has been some success in stabilizing vulture populations in certain regions of India.
However, continuous efforts are needed to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of vulture species.
Beyond safety measures, there needs to be awareness about the role vultures play in the ecosystem.
Vulture conservation in India remains an ongoing priority, and the concerted efforts of the government, conservation organizations, researchers, and local communities are crucial to safeguarding these ecologically important birds.
-Article by Swathi Satish