Vulture conservation gets a boost through Ramlilas in Uttarakhand, by Vipul Goel

September 29th, 2009

RAMNAGAR – With the vulture population declining alarmingly in Uttarakhand’s Ramnagar area, which adjoins the Corbett Wildlife Sanctuary, a group of pro-wildlife activists and forest rangers are engaged in spreading public awareness about their conservation in the region.

Under the banner of the Corbett Vulture Conservation Committee, the NGO activists recently used the annual Ramlilas, held during the Dussehra festival, to promote awareness about vultures.

Jatayu Bhagwan, a Demi god in form of a vulture, who finds mention in they mythological epic Ramayana, was used to spread the message of conservation , the idea being to use mythology to educate the masses.

The near extinction of vultures has caused ecological concern as vultures eat up carcasses and keep jungles free of diseases.

As per reports, 99 per cent of the country’s vulture population has vanished mainly because of consuming cow carcasses are treated with the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac Sodium, the production of which was banned in 2006.

Officials say, the use of the drug is rampant and efforts are on to dissuade people from using the drug.

“It is awareness regarding this salt called Diclofenac because though the veterinary one has been banned, the alternate of that is human Diclofenac which is being used rampantly (for livestock of cattle). And they give you one dose, which you are recommended to apply three injections. So our studies show that in adjoining forested areas of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, which is in the Terai west area, not in the forested areas but in the habitat areas of the adjoining Terai west and Ramnagar.

There were many villages where the use of diclofenac, human diclofenac, is still quite rampant. So which is a huge cause of alarm. So this is what our awareness programme is all about,” said Sumantha Ghosh, Director, Corbett Vulture Conservation Committee.

Even renowned wildlife documentary filmmaker Mike Pandey has worked on the subject and made a movie titled ‘The Vanishing vulture’.

This movie was screened during the ‘Ramlila’ plays to draw public attention towards the declining number of vultures.

Besides, the activists also opted to talk to people and distributed pamphlets with information about the need for vulture conservation.

According to experts, connected to the conservation of vultures, the mission is important in the Indian subcontinent else it could lead to serious repercussions like the spread of disease.

“So this sort of global implication is mainly that, we have the awareness of the early warning signs, that some drugs are used and have become more commonly used, and may effect all kinds of animals in unknown ways. So some kind of testing for these kind of effects in the future, this is the warning that you get from this….as well as the implication to the health costs to the Indian subcontinent,” said Oliver Grey Reed, a vulture conservation specialist of United Kingdom, who is also associated with the conservation drive in Ramnagar with Corbett Vulture Conservation Committee.

Birds eating drug-infused carcasses suffer from kidney damage, increased serum uric acid concentrations, visceral gout and death.

The drug was introduced in India in 1995. Although the production and sale of Diclofenac has been banned, the implementation has been slow.

Vultures find a place in Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the country’s only legal framework to protect endangered species, which prohibits hunting and trafficking of endangered species.

Conservationists around the world have also called upon the Indian Government to intensify a captive breeding programme for the threatened species.

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