Four out of eight species of vulture found in Nepal are included in endangered list of the IUCN- the world conservation union. They are White Rumped (Gyps beldgalensis), Slender Billed (Gyps tenuirostris), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopteros) and Red headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus). Additionally, the first two are termed ‘critically endangered’.
Following the warning from the IUCN over the possible extinction of vultures from Nepal, Birds Conservation Nepal (BCN) took several initiatives to increase the population of the birds here. Latest estimation show the number of nests found in west of Narayani River Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone Area and east Nawalparasi District has doubled. President of BCN Shree Ram Subedi talked to Indra Adhikari of Nepalnews on the ongoing conservation efforts, causes of extinction and initiatives taken to increase their population. Excerpts:
What evidences show vultures are the endangered species of birds in Nepal?
We don’t have exact data to show how many vultures are found in Nepal. Practically it is impossible to maintain a reliable record. Yet there are few instances that show the number is declining at an alarming rate. In 2001 we counted 50 nests in Koshi Tappu. Next year it dropped to three and one in the following year. Since 2003, we have not found any nest in that wetland. Likewise, we had found 24 nests in Pokhara in 2004. This number dropped to 17 till 2006. Similarly, in the middle of the 1990s, these carnivorous birds could be seen in big flocks. This hasn’t been witnessed in recent years. IUCN conservationists have warned that population has decreased by 90 percent since 1990.
What are the causes of declining population of vultures?
Only in 1999, scientists came know that vultures are decreasing in this sub-continent. Since then, they explored to various studies and concluded in 2003 that diclofenic – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – caused the death of these birds. Carcasses of the NSAID-fed animals were the major cause of death. When its complement – Maloxicam — was discovered, we lobbied for government ban on the use of diclofenic in 2006.
Vultures in groups are rare picture in recent years (Photo Courtesy: BCN)
Besides, use of pesticides by farmers, confinements of the nest colonies, lack of adequate food because people started burying dead animals and cutting down of the trees led to extinction of these birds. The practice of cattle rearing has decreased, causing scarcity of food, specifically safe food. The government lacks initiative to stop destroying forests where vultures live. All these are the major factors for decreasing population.
What is BCN doing for saving these birds from extinction?
We started ‘vulture restaurants’ in some nesting areas. This was meant to feed the vultures with safe food since this has become scarcer in recent years. We asked the villagers to provide us with old cattle. We rear the cattle and on their death keep in open places where the vultures can feed on. Similarly, we have improved coordination with the community forest user groups to protect the forests where the vultures nest. We successfully campaigned for ban in use of the diclofenic. Within a year, the use has dropped to 10 percent. Now, we have begun a new project to increase the vulture population – a breeding centre. To be located at an isolated place inside Chitwan National Park, a natural cage will be prepared where we project to keep 10 pairs each of the two critically endangered species.
Are the local communities cooperative to conservation?
With efforts of BCN, WWF, IUCN and many forest user groups, awareness on importance of vulture among the villagers is increasing. In Nawalparasi where we have vulture restaurants, villagers supply us with old livestock. In few instances, we also bought animals. Many farmers have reported us about the chopping of big trees where vultures have nested. As we communicated the issue with ministry of forest, many vulture colonies have been saved from being destroyed.
Are conservation efforts for this endangered bird satisfactory?
Not much. Though the responses to our approach were positive, the government has not shown seriousness at par with the graveness of the situation. The government must be proactive. Since most forests have been handed over to the communities, the local communities have to be made proactive towards protection issue and increase their involvement. Derisory resources available with us also hindered conservation efforts. nepalnews.com Jan 17 08
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