Asia’s First “Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Program” launched with release of two birds —

Himalayan Griffon Vultures in an enclosure before being released in the wild (pix SShukla)

Himalayan Griffon Vultures in an enclosure before being released in the wild (pix SShukla)

The Haryana government launched Asia’s First ‘Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Program’ at Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre, (JCBC), in Bir Shikargah in Pinjore (India) by releasing two Himalayan Griffon Vultures in the wild. The center has 215 vultures.

Vulture Conservation 

The Centre has become prominent vulture breeding and conservation centre in the country — after successfully breeding Himalayan Griffon Vultures (family Accipitridae) — an old world vulture in the captivity.

While releasing the vultures Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar said that with this achievement, country will ‘have four crore vultures in the next 10 years,” he added.

The Himalayan Griffon is closely related to the critically endangered resident Gyps species of vultures but is not endangered. Two Himalayan Griffons released on Friday (3 June 2016) were not born in captivity, they were rescued from the wilderness and have been in captivity for over a decade. They were in the aviary with other resident Gyps vultures. These birds were wing-tagged and were ringed for identification.

Diclofenac Killed Vultures 

“Breeding and conservation of vultures is a significant step in the direction of saving the species. It is a matter of concern that some vulture species have become endangered. Almost 95 per cent vultures have disappeared and the reason is diclofenac, a pain killer drug given to cattle which can kill them,” Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.

Khattar said that the behavior and movement of the birds will be closely monitored. Having been in captivity for many years, it will be interesting to see how they adjust to wild conditions.

“Himalayan Griffon Vultures were kept in the release aviary which is just outside the vulture centre. The birds had been released in the aviary on November 13, 2015. When they lifted the front netting giving the captive Himalayan Griffons the option of joining the wild Griffons, the released vultures readily stepped outside and joined the wild vultures,” a Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre official said.

Prakash Javadekar later handed over 10 captive bred vultures, which have siblings at the centre, to Field Director, Van Vihar National Park, Madhya Pradesh, A K Srivastava, as a part of the genetic management of captive vulture population.

While releasing captive vultures in pre-release aviaries close to the breeding centre, he gave one the name ‘Jodh Singh’, taken from village Jhodhpur, where (JCBC) is situated.

A maximum of 35 wild vultures have been visiting the area outside the pre-release enclosure since November 2015 and feeding there. Officials claimed, they have developed bonds with the captive vultures and we hope that the captive ones will soon embrace the wild group and learn survival skills.

These two vultures will act as sentinel birds and will allow us to determine how they survive in the wilderness. If their release is successful, we will commence the release of the three critically-endangered species born in captivity,” said Dr Vibhu Prakash, who heads this pioneering project.

The central government’s vulture action plan envisages the release into ‘Vulture Safe Zones’ of 600 pairs of the three critically-endangered species in the decade following the first successful release. From a population estimated at four crore in the 1980s, Indian vultures suffered a catastrophic decline and numbered a mere lakh in 2008 due to such agents of mortality as diclofenac.

Vulture transfer to enhance genetic management

During the ceremony 10 White-backed and long-billed vultures were gifted to the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Center (VCBC), near Kerwa Dam in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh (MP). It is part of a long-term plan to shift birds between centers across India for genetic management of captive vultures, to prevent inbreeding especially among siblings and transfer birds to a center in keeping with the distribution range of the species.

Chief Conservator of Forest, Van Vihar National Park, Bhopal, Atul K. Sirivastav said, “We have two colony aviaries at the Kerwa center. We earlier procured 15 vultures from the JCBC and five from the wilderness in MP. However, we needed adult birds to commence breeding and these have now been obtained in the latest batch of 10 from JCBC. Another 16-17 Long-billed vultures will be transferred to the Kerwa Center from the VCBC, Raja Bhat Khawa in West Bengal. We plan that conditions for breeding at the Kerwa VCBC will be met in October-November with this latest batch of 10 vultures.”

Other transfers to enhance genetic management on an all India basis include sending White-backed from : Pinjore to the Bhuvaneshwar center; from Rani Center in Assam to Bhuvaneshwar;  and from Shakkarbaug Zoo to the Hyderabad center. The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has directed states’ Chief Wildlife Wardens to send rescued birds housed in their zoos to the nearest vulture centers to enhance the gene pool for conservation, breeding and reintroduction programmes.

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