Global tenders for satellite tracking of freed vultures —

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)

A global tender has been floated by the Haryana forest department for the purchase of eight platform transmitter terminals (PTTs) to be attached to critically-endangered White-rumped vultures so that the birds can be tracked when they soar to freedom.

The vultures are scheduled for release from the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC) at Bir Shikargah, Pinjore. The release will mark a historic benchmark for conservation as these will constitute the first vultures bred in captivity from the egg stage. Nepal had earlier released into the wilderness those adult vultures, which were first gathered as nestlings/chicks from the wilderness. Those nestlings were reared in captivity for years and then released back into the Nepalese wilderness.

“The tenders are due to be opened next week by the department. We have placed eight vultures in the pre-release enclosure at the JCBC awaiting full release. These include six vultures bred in captivity and two that had been captured from the wilderness but did not breed at the JCBC. These two birds will serve as guide birds to the six captive-bred specimens. We are planning to release these eight vultures in November 2018 as that is the time when migratory Himalayan griffons come down to Pinjore and Morni hills. The eight vultures will then merge with migratory griffons and free-ranging White-rumped vultures and will be guided into the wilderness to learn survival skills, food sources and safe places to perch,” pioneering vulture scientist and BNHS deputy director and vulture programme head Dr Vibhu Prakash told Times of India (TOI).

Each PTT is estimated to cost in the range of Rs 4 lakh. In addition, Rs 1 lakh will be paid to the satellite data service provider, ArgoSat, for the download of each PTT attached to a freed vulture. The PTT will be attached to each vulture through the device known as a backpack harness. The PTTs will allow scientists of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to track vultures after release, assess how they fare in the wilderness and what threats they face. In the eventuality of a vulture getting afflicted with injury or illness, the PTTs will assist in tracking down the bird quickly and administering veterinary relief.

Delineating the imperative of PTTs for vulture rehabilitation in the wilderness, Dr Prakash noted: “In June 2016, the then Union Environment & Forests Minister Parkash Javadekar had released two griffons without PTTs since permission had not been granted by the Union Department of Telecommunications. We could not trace these griffons and do not know how they fared after release from captivity.”

As a parallel preparation for the release, the BNHS has written to the chief wildlife wardens of five states — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh — to secure permission to collect liver samples from cattle carcasses. “These states fall within a 100 km radius from the JCBC. The liver samples will be tested for the presence of veterinary drugs fatal to vultures. The testing is aimed at ensuring a 100-km safe zone for vultures when we release them,” Dr Prakash explained.

The JCBC is run as a collaborative venture since 2001 by the Haryana Forest department and the BNHS. The venture has succeeded in establishing proven captive breeding protocols for vultures verging on the brink of extinction due to the lethal effects of these carrion birds feeding on cattle carcasses injected with veterinary drugs such as diclofenac, aceclofenac, carprofen, flunixin, ketoprofen, nimesulide and phenylbutazone. Resort to the “double-clutch” method and use of incubators resulted in speedy vulture breeding. In natural conditions, vultures only lay an egg or two a year. (Times of India)

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