Heat stress, dehydration killing vultures in Ramnagar by Anupma Khanna

guidhIn an observation that has alarmed conservation activists and wildlife scientists, the near-extinct Indian White-backed Vulture, inhabiting Ringora village in Ramnagar, has been showing signs of a disturbing illness caused by heat stress, that experts warn will bode the death of the endangered species if not addressed immediately.

Researchers of Corbett-based Mahseer Conservancy, who have been undertaking the annual vulture monitoring exercise in the region, report that every evening, after the heat of the day, as many as 90 per cent of the vultures in the colony can be found perched on trees with their heads drooped forward and resting on their chests.

“This worrying behaviour has been noticed over the past two weeks. Given the length of time it has been occurring for, it is unlikely to be a result of diclofenac poisoning, as diclofenac kills the birds within two or three days of consumption. Experts from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the England-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and other vulture experts have indicated that the abnormal behaviour is being caused by heat stress and dehydration. Eventually, the already rare birds will die from this stress on their bodies,” cautioned Sumantha Ghosh, founder of Mahseer Conservancy in an exclusive conversation with The Pioneer.

Given that there are only around ten birds left in the region, naturalists are trying hard to capture these birds when they fall on the ground so that they may be treated and saved.

Ghosh said, “As in humans, the sick vultures can be given rehydrating drips and kept in a controlled environment. Veterinarian Dr S Bhalla of Corbett Tiger Reserve has been helpful and has agreed to treat the birds in his safe hands. The only way to save vultures that have heat stress is to wait until they fall from the trees, capture them and quarantine them, with plenty of food and water easily accessible to them.”

According to Dr Vibhu Prakash, director of Pinjore-based Vulture Breeding Centre of BNHS, the birds will fall (from their perches) within a month and require entrapment for anti-stress treatment.

The Indian White-backed Vulture is an endangered species that has witnessed a 99 per cent decline in its population in the last decade.

Children of Ringora village helping for the conservation of vultures

Children of Ringora village helping for the conservation of vultures

Among their rare colonies is Ringora, an “encroached” village with around 25 families on either side of NH-121, about three km north of Ramnagar in Nainital district.
With the help of local village children, volunteers of the NGO have been trying to capture these birds. However, it is only a short span of about 5 minutes for which a vulture is on the ground before it hides away, and often it is too late by the time the volunteers reach the spot. Cognizant of the urgency to address the issue, Ghosh appealed through The Pioneer, “I request the State forest department and concerned citizens to help with providing bird trappers who can stay in the vicinity for immediate action. Otherwise, it will not be long before we lose the few endangered species that we have left in the State.”

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