Vultures found in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district are soon set to make Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park their new home. The Telangana forest department, which had requested for 10 (5 pairs) of white-backed vultures from Gadchiroli for captive breeding at Hyderabad in February last year, is awaiting approval from the central government.
The white-backed vulture has been listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The Telangana forest department needs the vultures for captive breeding, as the vultures at the zoo are aged and not breeding.
Following the request, the Maharashtra forest department had sought clearance from the central government for the transfer of the vultures, under Section 12 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “Telangana has demanded 10 vultures (five male and five female) from Sironcha in Gadchiroli. We wrote to the central government in November last year. A reminder was also sent on January 22, this year,” said Nitin Kakodkar, Maharashtra PCCF (Wildlife).
The Telangana forest department is implementing a vulture conservation project, sponsored by Central Zoo Authority (CZA). The zoo is also among 10 zoos in the country selected for upgradation to global standards by the CZA. The government had sought 10 vultures from Gadchiroli, rhinoceros among other animals from zoos within the country and also internationally.
“The CZA has assigned Nehru Zoological Park as the site for conservation breeding of mouse deer and vultures. The current stock of birds we have at the Hyderabad zoo are aged. Some of them are not mating properly, not laying eggs. In some cases, even if the egg is laid, it is not hatching and surviving for over one week. We have tried breeding, but money and time are wasted as the vultures are aged,” said a senior forest official from the Telangana forest department.
A Shankaran, OSD (Wildlife), Telangana forest department said, “We have referred this matter to the MoEFCC, saying the Maharashtra government has given concurrence. We are yet to receive permission from the Centre. We will pursue this matter again and expedite it.”
In the late 1990s, the population of vultures in the country had begun to decline sharply. The decline in India was first quantified at Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, by Dr Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Between 1985-86 and 1996-97, the population of oriental white-backed vulture declined by an estimated 97% at Keoladeo, and by 2003, this colony was extinct. The 2007 all-India survey indicated the numbers of the oriental white-backed vultures had declined by a staggering 99.9% over the preceding 15 years.
Numbers of white-backed vultures – once the most common large raptor in the world – have collapsed mainly due to the use of Diclofenac, a painkiller drug, in veterinary practice. The vultures who eat carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac soon died of kidney failure. While the manufacture of veterinary diclofenac was banned in 2006, the drug formulated for humans is still available.
The Nehru Zoological Park currently has around 12 white-backed vultures, most of which are old and not of mating age. The lifespan of the raptor is between 40-45 years– most vultures in the park are aged 30-35 years.
The state forest department had also requested Telangana to depute a team of experts to Gadchiroli Circle to assess the vulture population, group size and availability of breeding pairs. The team which visited in November last year found over 50 vultures and 25 nesting sites in the Gadchiroli circle. The overall number of birds in the tribal district may be 300, but experts fear duplicity in the numbers, as the vultures fly up to 100km.