12 satellite-tagged vultures take wing from Nepal

Eight of them are captive-bred; the birds are also fitted with wing tags

September 29, 2018 09:46 am | Updated 09:57 am IST - Kochi

Satellite-tagged white-rumped vultures provide information about their movement.

Satellite-tagged white-rumped vultures provide information about their movement.

In a first for Asia, Nepal released 12 satellite-tagged white-rumped vultures, eight of which are captive-bred – chicks born to vultures in captivity – on September 17.

This signifies a huge step for the vulture breeding and recovery programme in not just Nepal but the entire subcontinent, as India’s captive-bred vultures too await their turn, said Chris Bowden, programme manager of SAVE-Vultures, a consortium that co-ordinates recovery efforts and conservation breeding programmes across Asia.

Second release

This is Nepal’s second vulture release; last year, it released six captive-reared (wild chicks reared in captivity) satellite-tagged white-rumped vultures.

“This is a major step for establishing secure wild populations now that we are confident that the veterinary use of diclofenac has been stopped in this country,” said Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in a press release.

The Indian connection

Eliminating the illegal use of diclofenac (its consumption through cattle carcasses is lethal to vultures) is crucial to complement conservation measures, including the breeding programme (where vultures are reared and bred in captivity, and released in the wild to prevent species extinction). Before release, the birds are fitted with satellite and wing tags; these are now providing interesting information about the movement of Nepal’s vultures.

Eleven wild birds tagged in Nepal have visited India’s Uttar Pradesh (in 2017, the birds were released just 15 km from the India-Nepal border), said Dr. Bowden, who works with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (United Kingdom).

Of these, one has been particularly adventurous: it flew twice to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh and back, and is currently in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government has granted permission to satellite-tag captive-bred white-rumped vultures in Haryana’s Pinjore, one of the conservation breeding centres in India. Here, as the vultures await their satellite tags from the government, survey teams monitor availability of diclofenac in local pharmacies and test for its residue in cattle carcasses.

“But the picture is not clear yet,” said Dr. Bowden. “Another worry is that other veterinary drugs like nimesulide being used in the area could be toxic to vultures too. The Indian Veterinary Research Institute is carrying out tests to find out but these are taking time.”

Of India’s nine vulture species, four (including the white-rumped) are categorised as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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