Nepal Is a Model for Vulture Conservation

Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

White-rumped vulture. Credit: ANKIT BISHAL JOSHI.

By Karun Dewan
NAWALPARASI, Lumbiniī, Nepal, Oct 2 2020 (IPS)

Vultures get a lot of bad press. Unlike other birds which are
praised for their melodious song or bright plumage, vultures have
been traditionally reviled for feeding greedily on carcasses, and
what many see is as a repulsive look. In many cultures, they are
considered an ill omen and the Nepali language has many derogatory

A famous dialogue in the critically acclaimed and commercially
successful recent Nepali movie Loot proclaims Kathmandu as a ‘the
city of vultures’. What an insult to vultures.

This negative perception of vultures does not take into account
the enormous ecosystem services provided by the raptors in
consuming carrion, and reducing the spread of disease.

In fact, when vultures nearly became extinct in the Subcontinent
in the past two decades because of the use of the
veterinary anti-inflammatory
drug diclofenac
, animal carcasses lay rotting in the fields and
jungles becoming hotbeds for pathogens.

South Asia first started seeing a massive decline in its vulture
population starting the 1990s, and no one quite knew why. The
White-rumped, Long-billed and Slender-billed vultures declined by
more than 99% in India and Pakistan.

In Nepal, between 1995 and 2001, there was a 96% decline in the
Slender-billed vulture population, and the numbers of White-rumped
vultures had gone down by 91% until 2011.

Researchers then zeroed in on the cause: the use of the
analgesic diclofenac to treat sick livestock. Residue of the drug
in the carcasses of those animals when consumed by vultures caused
their kidneys to fail. Studies have shown that just 30ml of
diclofenac can kill as many as 800 vultures.


Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

Indian and Slender-billed vultures. Credit: ANKIT BISHAL


The good news is that Nepal has established itself as a pioneer
in vulture conservation
 over the years, and the birds are now
showing signs of coming back.

Nepal is home to nine species of vultures of which seven have
undergone considerable decline in recent years. The White-rumped
vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Slender-billed vulture (Gyps
tenuirostis), Red-headed
 (Sarcogyps calvus) and Indian vulture (Gyps indicus)
are in the IUCN critically endangered list.

The Egyptian vulture (Nephron percnopterus) is listed as
endangered, and three species – Bearded vulture (Gypaetus
barbatus), Cinerous vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Himalayan
Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) — are near threatened.

The first Vulture Conservation Summit in Kathmandu in 2004 took
three key decisions: ban
the use of diclofenac
, establish breeding centres for
endangered vultures, and rehabilitate them in the wild.

In 2006, diclofenac was banned by the governments
of South Asia
. The same year, Nepal opened world’s first food
centre for the birds called the â€˜Vulture
 locally known as ‘Jatayu Restaurant’ in
Nawalparasi district.

Operated and managed locally
 in an effort to provide the birds
of prey with uncontaminated meat, it saw a significant revival of
vulture populations in the area. Seven more ‘vulture
restaurants’ have been set up across the Tarai and mid-hill
districts: Rupandehi, Dang, Kailali, Kaski and Sunsari.

Similarly, a vulture conservation and breeding centre was set up
in Kasara in the Chitwan National Park in 2008. The same year a
‘Vulture Conservation Action Plan 2009-2013’ was approved and
implemented followed by a second action plan 2015-2019. The
campaign has seen 74 districts (except Kathmandu, Lalitpur and
Bhaktapur) declared diclofenac free.

At present, Nepal is on the verge of establishing the world’s
first vulture sanctuary – which will not have a defined perimeter
like other protected areas, but will stretch over 30,000sq km
divided into inner core area and a buffer zone. The amount of
diclofenac in the core area should be zero and less than 1% in the
buffer region.


Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

White-rumped vultures. Credit: NATIONAL TRUST FOR NATURE


In order to increase the population of vultures in these
protected areas, 31 vultures tagged with satellite devices have
been released into the natural habitat in the last three years.
Additional monitoring of 30 wild vultures fitted with satellite
equipment is being carried out.

Despite these achievements, vulture conservation is not without
challenges. Most conservation programs are limited to the Tarai and
hence should be expanded to the mid-hills and the mountains.

Apart from diclofenac, other chemicals such as nimuslide,
aceclofenac, and ketoprofen also appear to be harmful to vultures
and regular monitoring to prevent excessive use of these drugs is
recommended. Additional risks also come from declining natural
habitat, food shortage and transmission lines.

Vultures mate for life, they stay together from nesting to
hatching to rearing their young ones. They are found primarily in
the Tarai and mid-hill forests of western Nepal and generally
prefer to nest in enormous simal trees.

Despite the negative perception of vultures in culture and
folklore, the birds have religious, cultural and environmental
significance. Hindus worship it as the vehicle of Saturn. In the
Ramayana, the vulture Jatayu fought till his last breath when
Ravana abducted Sita. The practice of feeding the deceased to
vultures is still prevalent in Himalayan communities that worship
the scavenger as carriers of human souls to heaven.

More importantly, in the absence of vultures there will be no
scavengers to dispose of carrion, leading to disease outbreaks
among humans and cattle.

In monetary terms, one vulture in its lifetime saves about
$11,000 for its role in carcass management.

It is in our interest to invest in vulture conservation. The
first Saturday of September every year is marked as the
International Vulture Awareness Day and it is in its 12th edition
this year, Nepal should commit to work together with the
communities, governments, environmentalists and conservation
groups, because by protecting vultures we preserve biodiversity,
and ultimately the safety and health of human beings.


Karun Dewan is with the World Wildlife Fund,


This story was originally
 by The Nepali Times

The post Nepal
Is a Model for Vulture Conservation
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Nepal Is a Model for Vulture Conservation