Concerned over the drastic decline in vulture population in Tripura, the forest department has decided to start captive breeding of the scavenger bird at the Sipahijala Wildlife Sanctuary near Agartala.

“There are only 55 vultures in the State which came to light following a survey by the department. So, we have decided on captive breeding to conserve the bird,” Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gupta said.

Of the 55 vultures, 27 were sighted in Khowai district, 26 in South Tripura district and only two in Sipahijala Wildlife Sanctuary in Sipahijala district, the survey carried out by Mr. Gupta at 107 areas in 16 sub-divisions of the State, said.

“Vultures are an important component of the forest eco-system. They maintain the balance of the living and dead by devouring remains of dead animals,” Mr. Gupta said.

Among the nine species of vultures in the country, white-rumped vultures found in Tripura were identified as critically endangered by environmentalists, Mr. Gupta said.

Mr. Gupta said the Bombay Natural History Society and Zoological Survey of India would tie up with the forest department for the project once Tripura was declared a Dichlophenic-free State.

A survey commissioned by the governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra in 2001 found that vultures died after feeding on the carcasses of animals given Diclofena in their diet.

In Tripura, though animals were not widely fed Diclofena vultures still disappeared.

Ajit Bhowmik, Conservator of Forest and former director of Sipajijala Zoo said, “The calamitous reduction in the number of vultures is a dangerous development.”

“Vultures are scavengers which consume all dead beings but never spread germs. In their absence, the carcasses will be consumed by dogs, crows or other animals and birds, all of which will spread deadly germs, viruses and bacteria,” he said.

He attributed the rapid decline in the number of vultures to loss of habitat like tall and leafy trees in forests and loss of carcasses lying in nature.

An ornithologist, Prasenjit Biswas, who wrote book, ’The Last Flight of the Vulture’ said, not a single vulture was sighted anywhere in the State between 1998 and 2006.

The book attributed the disappearance of the scavengers to lack of food and the incursion of humans into their habitats.

“Human corpses are rarely dumped in the open, while animal carcasses are now safely disposed off. This has deprived the vultures of their natural food,” Mr. Biswas, who has been studying the movements and traits of vultures for over one-and-a-half decades, said.

Quoting a report compiled by the Bombay Nature History Society, former director Ajit Bhowmik said in the early eighties of the last century, India had a total vulture population of 20 million, but by 2009, their population dipped to less than one per cent of that figure.

Large flocks used to be sighted on the small islands of the 42 sq km Dumbur lake and its immediate environs in Gomati district as a large number of animal carcasses were available there at one point of time.

The Rudra Sagar Lake and its surroundings and Sipahijala sanctuary, with its large lakes and forests, used to be the favourite haunt of the species till the late eighties, Mr. Biswas added.