Vulture population declining despite conservation efforts

Published On: September 2, 2018 08:15 AM NPT By: Mukti Prasad Nyaupane

PALPA, Sept 2: Vultures’ population is showing worrying signs despite conservation efforts. Whether it be vulture restaurant or its pocket areas in community forests, sight of vultures in the district has become rare these days. And this is happening despite conservation efforts made for over a decade. 

“We have stopped cutting trees, mostly bombax trees which vultures used for their nests,” said Buddharaj Bashyal, a vulture conservationist. “But their population has significantly declined here. It is hard to see them around even animal’s dead bodies are left unattended,” he added. 

Vultures eat carcass of beasts and keep the environment clean. So, they are called natural scavengers. Gradual fall in the number of vulture should be an extremely alarming sign for humankind, conservationists assert. “It is a matter of huge concern. They are not coming even to eat carcasses, where have they gone?” Bashyal wondered. 

Andheri Charchhare community forest located in Madanpokhara of Tansen Municipality was a pocket area of vultures. According to Bashayal, vultures inhabited in this area for decades. Over the years, after their population started dwindling, locals launched initiatives to save them. Vulture restaurant, Palpa, was a part of the initiative and is owned and managed by the locals. Bashyal is one of the team members who have been dedicated to the cause. 

“Whenever cattle die in village, we just take it to jungle and leave it there for vultures to come and clean it up. We have been doing it since the last one decade. People are aware and they do it quite willingly,” narrated Bashyal. “Now, everyone is surprised that vultures don’t come for the prey,” he added.

In the later years, local here not only saved bombax trees, but also planted new ones. According to Bashyal, the constraint of the restaurant is that staffs cannot go far away to collect dead body of animals. So, ‘food’ for vultures is left in the jungle only when animals die in the village only. 

Bashyal believes that the delayed conservation effort is the reason behind falling number of vultures. ‘It should have been done much earlier’. 

“In the past, trees were cut relentlessly. Bombax trees that are habitat for vultures disappeared rapidly. Efforts to save those trees were made very late. By the time we started conserving them, loss of habitat had already affected the vultures,” he observes. 

The vulture restaurant was officially registered in 2008. There was ‘fair’ number of vultures some years back. It has been two, three years that their number gone down drastically. 

After it was believed by authorities concerned that exposure to diclofenac (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) was taking its toll on the vultures, and it was banned. Vultures were actually showing encouraging signs. However, considering the present conditions, things need to be reviewed again, says Ankit Joshi, representative of Bird Conservation Society. 

“Across the world, 23 species of vultures are found. Among them, nine are found in Nepal,” Joshi said. “When conservationists came to a conclusion that diclofenic was harming them, they raised voice and a ban was put on the use of diclofenic in plants and animals. Later, that also showed some good signs for vultures, it would not affect them even if they ate the animal carcasses,” he added. 

But, of late, the reason behind the decline of vultures’ population could be pointing to the shrinking of forests and their prey, he analyzes. It is critically endangered species and extremely effective plans and policies are the need of the time for conserving them. 

“There are quite a few number of vulture restaurants in Nepal. They have been doing their job. But that is not being enough,” he noted.  In vulture restaurants, vulture eggs are protected and they are hatched through artificial means. After the chicks grow up a little, they are left back in the jungle. According to Naryana Prasad Adhikari, principal of Dibyajyoti Secondary School, vultures are disappearing mostly because of human activities. Humans don’t let animals live full life and die. Animals are killed premature. Similarly, trees are cut in the name of development. “So, we are robbing them of their natural habitat and food. Why wouldn’t they disappear?” he questioned. “They don’t want to live near human settlements. They need very tall and strong trees to inhabit,” he added.

Vultures have very sharp eyes. They can see eight times far than humans. They fly up to 300 kilometers for their pray. “Even when they are gifted by the nature, we made it difficult for them to survive,” Adhikari lamented. 

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