Vulture nesting declining: researchers

Study underway at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to identify causes of this decline

May 26, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 05:37 am IST - COIMBATORE:

B.Ramakrishnan (centre), assistant professor of wildlife biology, Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, with volunteers at the vulture survey in Mudumalai.

B.Ramakrishnan (centre), assistant professor of wildlife biology, Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, with volunteers at the vulture survey in Mudumalai.

Wildlife researchers have discerned a declining trend in nesting of vultures in The Nilgiris, the only place in South India to host four of the nine vulture species found in India. A study is under way at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) to identify the causes.

It is being done by Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology of the Government Arts College at Ooty in collaboration with Forest Department and Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association. It is expected to be completed next year.

B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor of the Department, who is leading the team, told The Hindu on Saturday that despite searching for three years, they have not spotted a single nest of the King Vulture whose entire population in The Nilgiris is estimated around 20. “The research assumes significance as The Nilgiris is among the few places in the country to have a viable wild population of vultures. As a scavenger, they consume the animal carcasses and prevent spreading of germs and diseases to both men and animals.”

Further, the research team is also conducting an enumeration of vultures jointly with the week-long wildlife census under way at MTR now. The King Vulture will only eat carcasses of freshly killed animals and hence, it shadows the movement of larger predators such as tiger and leopard. Following these vultures will also help ascertain the population of big cats, he said.

The last survey conducted in 2014 put the count of White Backed Vultures at 125 and Long Billed Vulture at 15. Both of these species are classified as ‘critically endangered.’ The King Vultures population is put at 20 and the Egyptian vulture, 10. These two are classified as ‘endangered’ and ‘near threatened’ respectively, added Prof. Ramakrishnan.

The research team has also written to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests seeking funds to find out about the nesting habits of Long Billed Vultures. They are found only in cliffs and gorges and the team did not have the financial resources for this venture now, he said.

The major threats to vultures come from Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used for both animals and humans.

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