The population of vultures has declined so drastically in Andhra Pradesh that the scavenging bird is on the verge of extinction.

The number of vultures has dwindled from around 8,500 in 1997 to a few now. “We have been monitoring for the last five years. Except for two vultures sighted in Utnoor in Adilabad in November last and February this year, they are not found anywhere else,” said G. Umapaty, senior scientist, Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), a facility of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).

Attributing the decline to non-availability of cattle carcasses on which vultures feed, Dr. Umpathy, who is also a member of the Andhra Pradesh Biodiversity Board, suggested to the State government to start at least two “vulture restaurants” (feeding facility) – one each in Adilabad and at Srisailam Tiger Reserve to provide diclofenac-free carcasses regularly as part of urgent conservation measures. Such a measure would definitely enhance the chances of finding more vultures, he added.

Few years ago, at least twenty long-billed vultures (at Srisailam Tiger Reserve and Adilabad) and white-backed vultures (at Srisailam Tiger Reserve) were found.

Unlike in North India, people who own cattle in the South sell the animal to slaughter houses if it was not found to be useful. This pattern had increased in the recent past because of the presence of mechanised slaughter houses, he added.

Concerned by the drop in vulture population, Dr. Umapathy said that the State Biodiversity Board had also announced a reward some months ago to any person who sights a vulture. “We didn't receive a single call. That means it is almost extinct in Andhra Pradesh”, he observed.

Efforts on

With the Nehru Zoological Park here taking up a breeding project in collaboration with LaCONES, efforts are on to procure some more pairs of the bird from Gujarat. At least 10 pairs were needed to be procured for the breeding programme.

S.N. Jadhav, member-secretary of the State Biodiversity Board, said that the Board would suggest to the government to start “vulture restaurants” as part of its conservation efforts.