Vultures put in an appearance at gram sabha meetings

Wouldn’t it be just fabulous if conservation were all about holding seminars in star hotels? A study here and a study there, and lo and behold, critically-endangered species are back from the brink. The hard fact of conservation points in an entirely different direction. It tells us conservation efforts can’t stay elevated above the everyday and the mundane.

The rarefied world of species research and strategy stands validated only in as much as it involves local communities in conservation efforts. Sometimes, this would mean passing conservation-related resolutions at gram sabha meetings.

That is no hyperbole here — many a time in the past and even now, there have been instances of resolutions being passed to get local communities to aid efforts to protect four vulture species found in Tamil Nadu whose numbers have been rapidly dwindling since the 1990s.

In fact, the district administrations of a few districts have issued directives towards this end. Residents of hamlets in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve as well as in the Nilgiris regions must be familiar with such resolutions at gram sabha meeting.

A forest official points out that four vulture species are found in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve — namely gyps africanus (white-backed vulture), gyps indicus (long-billed vulture), sarcogyps calvus (red-headed vulture), and neophron percnopterus (Egyptian vulture). In what may interest us more closely, there have been reports of Egyptian vulture sightings on the outskirts of Chennai.

“Forests with mountains that present a craggy typography are best liked by most vultures,” explains the forest official. “The Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve is characterised by such features. In fact, the vulture range includes the Nilgiris, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Bandipur Tiger Reserve.”

A “Synchronised Vulture Survey 2019” was carried out in areas.

These vast patches with their vulture-friendly features are also the focal point of man-animal conflict, as hamlets nestle amidst them, and residents find themselves having to make choices that may promote biodiversity or bring it under strain.

Over the last decade, there have been instances of gram sabha meetings in Tamil Nadu passing vulture-conservation resolutions involving panchayats.

“The resolutions usually skim the surface and don’t go into the specifics,” says the forest official, adding that without the specifics being spelt out, little positive action can be expected.

What are the specifics?

“Reporting any incident where an animal carcass had been thrown in the forest is one specific. It is illegal to dispose of an animal carcass. Besides, there is the possibility of the carcass having diclofenac (though banned for veterinary use) or similar formulation that are extremely harmful to vultures. Another specific manner in which they can help is report sightings of vultures. But all these have to be clearly spelt out gram sabha and other such meetings and there should be follow-ups by conservation groups so that the messages are reinforced time and again,” says the forest official.

Subbaiah Bharathidasan of Arulagam, a conservation-NGO that works in these areas in connection with vulture protection, says, “At various times, during the last decade, three district administrations — Coimbatore, Erode and Nilgiris — issued directives that panchayats be asked, during gram sabha meetings, to cooperate in vulture conservation initiatives. How effective these resolutions are is a moot point, but the fact that the district administrations took cognisance of the issue did help spread awareness about it.”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 12:01:57 PM |

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