Coimbatore

Vulture population on the rise in the Nilgiris

The population of vultures in the Nilgiris has increased by more than 26 % since 2012, but conservationists and experts who have been monitoring the birds say that major threats, such as deliberate poisoning of cattle carcasses, are still prevalent in the region.

Samson Arockianathan, a research scholar studying vultures in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, said that in 2012, the number of vultures seen in the Nilgiris was around 152 individuals, comprising the White-rumped vulture, Asian king vulture and the Long-billed vulture. Since then, the population increased each year till 2014, before sudden crashes in 2015 and 2016.

It then recovered to 192 individuals in 2018. While these three species of vulture are known to nest almost exclusively in the Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserves in Southern India, other vulture species, such as the Cinereous vulture, the Himalayan griffon vulture and Egyptian vulture have been spotted visiting the Nilgiris each year.

Drug threat

Mr. Arockianathan told The Hindu said that unlike in other landscapes in India with high vulture population, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs like diclofenac, nimesulides and flunixin, was not as big a threat in the Nilgiris. “In Mudumalai, most people rear cattle for dung, which is then sold to farmers in Karnataka,” said Mr. Arockianathan.

There was a demand for beef in the region. Cattle were beinge sold to slaughterhouses, which meant that people had very little reason to use expensive drugs to try and keep the animals alive when they fell ill, he said.

B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor at the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology at the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam, said there was no denying that powerful anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac were harmful for vultures.

“However, conservation efforts must be region-specific, and there needs to be a concentrated effort to prevent poisoning of cattle carcasses,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

Since they began monitoring the vulture population in 2012, Mr. Ramakrishnan and Mr. Arockianathan have studied the deaths of over 47 individual vultures.

Policy change

“We ourselves have recorded that at least 12 of these deaths were caused because the vultures scavenged on carcasses that had been poisoned by people who were trying to kill tigers which had hunted their cattle,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan. A change in policy, aimed at winning the trust of local residents through speedy disbursal of compensation for cattle loss, would go a long way in ensuring the survival of vultures and tigers, he said.

S. Bharathidasan, secretary of Arulagam, said that while he conceded that carcass poisoning was a major threat to vulture population, a multi-dimensional approach, addressing all threats, including the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, was necessary to help increase the number of vultures.

K.K. Kaushal, Field Director of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, said concerted efforts were being taken to prevent deliberate poisoning of carcasses within the reserve. “We are trying our best, and mostly succeeding in ensuring that compensation is given swiftly for loss of cattle. We are also taking action against people who violate wildlife protection laws,” he said.

Mr. Kaushal said that owing to concerted awareness campaigns, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs for treating illness in cattle in the reserve and surrounding areas has been almost completely eliminated.

Conservation efforts pay

After vulture populations across the Western Ghats, and the rest of India, plummeted in the 1990s, sustained monitoring and concerted conservation efforts led to a recovery in the last decade.

Forest Department officials said the effects diclofenac and other anti-inflammatory drugs had on vultures were first detailed in 2008, at a workshop in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve.

This was done in subsequent workshops in the Nilgiris and Coimbatore in 2011 and 2015.

In 2018, a multi-stakeholder meeting was held, with conservationists and Forest Department officials from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana taking part in it.

Key resolution

One of the major resolutions adopted was that the Department of Animal Husbandry would stop procuring non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac, which were given to cattle to cure them of illnesses.

This was to ensure that vultures did not die of scavenging carcasses that contained diclofenac residue.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 7:52:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/vulture-population-on-the-rise-in-the-nilgiris/article29262721.ece

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