JCBC will release eight white-rumped vultures in October-November this year —

A historical picture of vultures in Timapur Delhi. Photo by Goutam Narayan

A historical picture of vultures in Timapur Delhi. Photo by Goutam Narayan

Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre (JCBC) will release eight white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) (earlier known as Oriental white-backed vulture) in October-November this year. This is the first time these scavenging birds will be released with transmitters attached to their bodies so that their movements can be monitored.

World’s largest facility in the world for breeding vultures, in terms of number of individuals, JCBC has 289 birds. Head of the breeding programme for vultures, Dr. Vibhu Prakash, told this web site eight birds will be released in October-November when migratory birds come to India from far off places. This will give released birds an opportunity to mingle with their wild cousins and learn their ways. There is huge possibility when migratory birds return to their summer destination in March-April next year they may take these birds along. This is the whole purpose of this long exercise.

Dr. Prakash said they were waiting for the transmitters, which have now arrived. According to him this is the first time that the birds are going to be released with transmitters. California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), species of New World vultures found in North America, are the only other example on which these transmitters were fitted when their global population was reduced to mere 21. After the vigorous conservation efforts bird was saved from extinction, now there are about 450 condors in the wild.

Out of these eight birds six hatched in JCBC, while two were caught from outside. The idea is bird brought from the wild will be able to ‘guide’ facility-born birds that do not have any experience of outside world.

Vultures, which were once found in huge numbers throughout India and adjoining countries, saw a very steep decline in last 25-30 years.  “This is the fastest decline of any bird species ever reported anywhere in the world”, according to Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). A survey across 18 protected areas in India was extrapolated to estimate that in 1991-92 there were over 40 million vultures in India alone, but in just over a decade, after the introduction of Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) administered to cattle, they were gone, their numbers plummeted to near extinction. Three of India’s vulture species of the genus ‘Gyps’ — the long-billed (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed (G. tenuirostris) had crashed by an astounding 97 percent, while in the white-rumped (G. bengalensis) the decline was even more catastrophic, at 99.9 between 1992 and 2007. Vultures feeding on the carcasses of animals recently treated with drug suffered renal failure that caused visceral gout and death.

From millions, the population of the three Gyps species has been recently estimated to be about 20,000, i.e., 12,000 long-billed, 6,000 white-rumped and the rarest being the slender-billed vulture at 1,000.

After it became clear that there is a urgent need for rigorous conservation efforts to save the species JCBC was started in 2007 in Pinjore (Haryana) — a joint effort of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Haryana Forest Department. It is the flagship of eight such breeding centers in India. A total of 162 vultures of all three affected species have been bred and raised in captivity.  

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