Poison kills 32 rare vultures in Assam

A stricken vulture being provided treatment.Special ArrangementThe Hindu

A stricken vulture being provided treatment.Special ArrangementThe Hindu  

It looked like a normal goat carcass, and a group of vultures in Assam’s Sivasagar district settled down to devour it quickly. But at the end of the meal, 32 of them lay dead on Saturday.

The incident has dealt a blow to India’s conservation programme for these highly endangered birds.

Seven vultures survived, of which four were released on Sunday after treatment. The goat carcass had been poisoned as revenge for the dogs that killed it, but vultures became the unintended casualty.

The mass poisoning is one of the worst such incidents in recent years, according to the Vulture Breeding Conservation Centre near Guwahati.

Among the survivors, three each were Himalayan griffon ( Gyps himalayensis ) and slender-billed ( Gyps tenuirostris ), and one was an Oriental white-backed ( Gyps bengalensis ) vulture. Of the 32 that died, 29 were Himalayan griffons.

Mass poisoning

There have been multiple incidents of mass poisoning. One was reported from western Assam’s Goalpara district in March 2011. At least 20 vultures had died then, after consuming the poisoned carcass of a dog.

“The death of the vultures has been a major loss, but the small relief is that seven survived. We are trying to identify the man who is believed to have poisoned the goat’s carcass,” said Bidya Bordoloi, DFO of Sivasagar Division.

Flushed out

Conservationist Simanta Medhi said doctors of the Bombay Natural History Society that runs the vulture breeding centre in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department, flushed out the poison from the system of the vultures, and gave them medication.

“Only seven could make it, and four of these have been released. The remaining three need some more treatment,” he said.

The vulture breeding centre in Assam hosts 104 birds, but the ones that died are not among those cared for by it.

Vultures have fallen victim in the past due to carcasses that are either infected or poisoned. Last year, 20 birds died in March after eating cattle remains, in Lakhimpur district. Of the 50 that were found alive, 45 were released after treatment. No one was proceeded against in that case since it was not seen as a deliberate act.

Research data cited by the BNHS last year show that populations of white-backed vultures appeared to have stabilised, but that of long-billed vultures was on the decline.

Veterinary medicines

A steady reduction in the numbers of vultures in India was linked to the use of veterinary medicines such as diclofenac, leading to a ban on its use in animals.

BNHS scientists have pointed out that several other medications are also toxic to the birds, and yet, these have not been restricted by the government.

Without action on both veterinary medications and incidents of revenge killing of wildlife in villages, the bird population is at serious risk, they contend.

Recommended for you