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Electrocution of Himalayan vulture in 2020 highlights threats posed by high-tension power lines in Mudumalai 

Experts have called for retrofitting infrastructure, and have suggested reflectors on power lines and rubber-insulated wires in eco-sensitive areas, to minimise the risks to the bird population

February 16, 2022 04:12 pm | Updated February 17, 2022 05:30 pm IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

A Himalayan vulture, killed by electrocution when it came in contact with a power line in Mudumalai in 2020.

A Himalayan vulture, killed by electrocution when it came in contact with a power line in Mudumalai in 2020. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The electrocution of a juvenile Himalayan vulture in 2020 in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) due to a high-tension power line, has highlighted the need to work on eliminating the threats posed to the vulture populations in the Sigur plateau in the Nilgiris, due to electricity infrastructure.

The findings of the electrocution of the vulture, believed to be the first such instance of a Himalayan vulture being electrocuted in South India, were published in the IUCN’s vulture specialist group’s newsletter. Researchers S. Manigandan, P. Kannan, H. Byju, S. Bharathidasam, Cimi Thambi and B. Ramakrishnan, recorded the death of the Himalayan vulture, an occasional winter migrant to the Sigur. The vulture was found dead in January of 2020, near the Maravakandy powerhouse. S. Manigandan, a wildlife biologist working with Arulagam, a conservation NGO working on studying and protecting vultures in the region, said that he had spotted a Himalayan vulture, possibly the same individual, two days prior to the discovery of the carcass near the powerhouse.

In the past, other vulture species, non-resident to the Sigur, such as the Cinereous vulture and the Eurasian griffon have also been recorded in the Sigur, he added.

The researchers recommend the installation of non-lethal infrastructure and retrofitting existing infrastructure linked to the power grid to prevent such incidents in the future. H. Byju, a researcher said that the incident served to highlight the threats that power lines pose to birds in the Sigur. “As the area is extremely vast, it could be that other birds and resident vulture populations too are impacted by these power lines, but these impacts are not being recorded,” he said. Mr. Byju added that installation of reflectors along power lines could also help minimize the risk posed by such infrastructure.

B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor at the department of zoology and wildlife biology, Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam, said that rubber-insulated wires should be used in power distribution networks that run through ecologically-sensitive areas like tiger reserves. “The Sigur is home to the largest population of vultures in South India. It is imperative that threats to this population are minimised as much as possible,” he said.

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