Junagadh,where vultures have held up the ambitious yet long-pending plans to build the Girnar Ropeway Project for pilgrims,is now the district with the second largest population of vultures and one of only two districts to host three critically endangered vulture species.
Whats more,the districts vulture population,concentrated in the Girnar Hills,has increased by over 40 per cent in just the last two years to 153 individuals,according to the just-released results of the vulture population survey jointly conducted by the states Forest Department,the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation and more than 200 volunteers.
Bharat Pathak,the IFS officer who currently heads GEER,said the population growth could have been both a reflection of strengthened survey efforts compared to previous years and a real increase in the scavengers population due to successful nesting there.
An NGO headed by Dinesh Goswami,the Prakruti Nature Centre,and forest guards had conducted the survey there. They had put in a lot of effort,including rock-climbing to survey better,and had photographic evidence to back their data. So one reason for the increase may be because the efforts are more,and there is also a real increase in the population because of successful nesting, said Pathak.
Goswami said over phone from Junagadh that they found up to 18 nesting sites at Welnath Mahadev Ki Samadhi,one of the highest points on Mount Girnar and where human presence is minimal but through which the proposed rope-way would pass through.
Some 70-odd other nesting sites are also distributed in surrounding areas,Goswami added. According to him,the number of nests has grown from 26 at the last survey to 85 currently.
Most of the vultures recorded in Junagadh are Long-Billed Vultures and this years survey has counted 122 of them,a huge jump from the 76 counted in 2010,52 in 2007 and 54 in 2005.
The other species is the White-rumped vulture; this years survey has counted 26 of them,again a jump from the 14 counted in 2010. While the 2007 survey found no White-rumped vultures in the district,there were 44 in 2005.
The survey has for the first time also recorded the presence of the Red-Headed (King) vulture in the district – five individuals have been spotted.
It is unclear how these new findings would impact the rope-way project,which has remained in limbo ever since it was first mooted in 1995 to shuttle thousands of Hindu and Jain pilgrims that visit the Girnar Hills each year.