A program to save South Asia’s wild vultures from extinction by breeding captive populations may be an exercise in futility, according to research released today.
Vultures once numbered tens of millions in India, Nepal, and Pakistan, where they provided valuable health services by consuming the remains of animal carcasses quickly. The birds also disposed of human remains set out for them on sacrificial “towers of silence” by adherents of the ancient Parsi religion.
When numbers of the bird crashed to a few thousand across the entire subcontinent the impact was dramatic. Rotting carcasses stunk up the countryside, incubating disease. Populations of feral dogs scavenging on the meat bonanza exploded, and the dogs also spread diseases, including rabies.
Parsis, whose religion prohibits burying or burning their dead, had to resort to technology such as solar reflectors to hasten decomposition of corpses.
The fate of South Asia’s vultures is a tragic story. When their numbers began to plummet in the mid-1990s researchers were mystified. By the time the cause was identified–widespread use of diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that had become a popular treatment for ailing livestock–several vulture species were on the brink of extirpation.
This is a documentation of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) in the remote state of Nagaland in India’s northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12,000 – 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state.
This is probably the single largest congregation of Amur falcons recorded anywhere in the world and it is tragic that they meet such a fate. Our team has alerted all appropriate authorities in Nagaland. Government officials we spoke to have committed to put an end to the slaughter and have initiated specific action steps outlined below. Conservation India will continue to monitor and report on the situation.
It is significant to note that India, as a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is duty bound to prevent this massacre, provide safe passage, as well as draw up appropriate action plans for the long-term conservation of this bird. In the recently concluded Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which India is the president for the next two years, the importance of CMS in conserving species, and especially in stopping bushmeat hunting, was repeatedly stressed.
Several species of beautiful birds have been forced into leaving the Garhi Mandu city forest area due to rise in pollution and loss of habitat. The forest area is spread over 894 acres in northeast Delhi.
Locals and civic workers are dumping debris and plastic waste in a huge natural wetland, which borders as much as 60 per cent of the south and eastern boundaries of this protected forest. Regular burning of garbage is causing severe air and water pollution.
On the filled up land, vegetable cultivation has also started. Water from the wetland is being regularly pumped out for cleaning vehicles and cultivation. Regular fishing is also disturbing the habitat and food chain of thes birds by causing the wetland to dry up. Open thoroughfare and playgrounds around the wetlands have also disturbed nesting.
“Resident waterbirds scared away so far include oriental darter, spot-bill duck, great and little cormorant, cinnamon bittern, white-throated kingfisher, purple swamphen, Indian moorhen,” said ecologist TK Roy. Birds, whose nesting has been disturbed, include green bee-eater, bank mynah, dabchik, and blackwinged still.
“The wetland attracts several species but despite repeated requests from environmentalists, the government is yet to notify the wetland. That’s why it’s unprotected and officially not part of the city forest,” he said.
“While so much money is being spent to save wetlands, a natural one along this city forest has been left neglected. Once the wetland is notified by the government for its protection, Garhi Mandu City Forest will be combined forest land of terrestrial and wetland habitats,” he said. The city forest is rich in biodiversity. The first-ever bird count at Garhi Mandu, conducted on February 24 this year, found 90 species, including 26 migratory and several threatened birds. “We found 33 species of waterbirds, including 13 migratory ones. Of the 57 species of terrestrial birds, 13 were migratory,” said Roy, who conducted the count.
The city forest shares its eastern boundary with colonies such as Shastri Park, Jagjit Nagar and Usmanpur along the Pushta Road which branches off National Highway 24. On the other side, it borders the left bank of the Yamuna.