Satellite tracking of endangered vultures in India —

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)

In a major step forward, government of India has eased restrictions imposed on attaching satellite transmitters onto critically-endangered vultures and other wild species. The Haryana forest department received a letter of intent for allocation of frequency bandwidth for satellite data transmission and has deposited the requisite license and related fees worth Rs 2,17,500 with the department of telecommunications (DoT), union ministry of communications and information technology.

The step forward comes after months of lobbying with the DOT by wildlife officers and Haryana state’s chief minister M L Khattar. The restrictions had translated into long delays in the work of vulture rehabilitation because eight Oriental white-backed vultures, nowadays usually called white-rumped vulture, (Gyps bengalensis) were awaiting release in the wild since June 2016 from the Pinjore-based Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC) run by the BNHS and the forest department. Six of these vultures had been born and raised in captivity and could not be released without satellite tags or platform terminal transmitters (PTTs). The process of monitoring vultures after release into the wilderness through data transmitted via satellites also involved the allocation of a particular frequency by the DOT. However, the DOT had neither granted permission for import of PTTs and nor had it allocated the requisite frequency for satellite data transmission citing apprehensions that such technology may be misused for spying by interests inimical to India.

Due to lack of this facility earlier, two Himalayan griffons or Himalayan vultures (Gyps himalayensis) released in June 2016 from the JCBC could not be traced because PTTs could not be attached to the birds. “The fees have been deposited by our department with the DOT following a receipt of a letter of intent for frequency assignment from the DOT’s assistant wireless advisor to the government. This is a very positive step in the rehabilitation of vultures in the wilderness. The Haryana government and Chief Minister Khattar had written letters to the government seeking these satellite permissions as vulture rehabilitation has been included as a part of the Swachh Bharat mission,” principal chief conservator of forests, Haryana, P P Bhojvaid, told Times of India.

The fee has been deposited by the Haryana forest department with the DOT. “We are now awaiting the communication from the DOT for the allocation of the particular frequency on which we will track vultures. I am keeping my fingers crossed but the first positive step has been taken,” Dr Vibhu Prakash, who heads the JCBC, said.

The DOT’s senior deputy wireless advisor (P), M K Patnaik, said: “Once the fees have been deposited, I shall have the matter processed for frequency allocation. The permission for import of satellite tags follows after the process of frequency allocation.”

Unlike a satellite phone that involves two-way voice communication, satellite telemetry involves one-way data communication. Satellite transmitters, deployed on wide ranging on migratory animals, temporarily store information about animal locations and environmental variables before transmitting it via satellites to receiving stations where from the decoded information is communicated via internet. (The Times of India)

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