A RECENT survey by the forest department and Mahad-based conservation NGO, Society of Ecoendangered Species Conservation and Protection or Seescap, has found a substantial decrease in the vulture population in Raigad district, one of their natural abodes in the state.
From 347 in February 2019, the population of the long-billed and white-backed vultures has dropped to 249 in March this year, the survey has revealed.
Both the vulture species are listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The census showed the number of long-billed vultures in Shrivardhan and Mhasla areas decreased by 34 per cent, while the number of long-billed vultures in Mahad, Kolad, Wakan and Sudhagad (Pali) areas have decreased by 18 per cent.
Five to seven member teams studied the movement of vultures around the nests throughout the day at around seven locations in the district. As the vultures can fly up to 100 km, the flying direction of the birds as they leave their nests and their direction while returning to their nests were all monitored. Apart from the nests, their movements on the trees were also recorded.
The survey also examined the effects of natural disasters, food shortages, and extreme temperatures on vulture colonies. “Cyclones, heavy rainfall, the felling of tall trees used by vultures to build nests, as well as inadequate food supplies and large-scale deforestation of large habitats are some of the reasons behind the drop in the vulture population,” said Premsagar Mestri, the founder of Seescap and honorary wildlife ranger.
Mestri, also a wildlife conservator, has helped increase the population of vultures from 22 to 350 in the district with his over 15 years of conservation efforts, especially focused on nutrition.
Among the steps taken to help in the recovery of the vulture population in Maharashtra, the state government said it is trying to create awareness among cattle rearers not to use diclofenac – a drug used in treating cattle but considered deadly for vultures.
In another initiative to conserve the declining vulture population, ‘vulture restaurants’ were also set up –the first one in 2015 at Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary in Raigad district. The restaurant for the vulture provides carcasses of cattle, free of diclofenac, to feed on at specific places, especially during the breeding season.
Over the last three months, Seescap has rescued six white-backed vultures, including four chicks, from heavy rainfall. With the number of rescues increasing, Seescap has now urged the forest department for a dedicated rescue centre at Shrivardhan.
“Each chick needs to be fed 300 to 400 grams of meat once a day. In addition, as the wingspan of these birds is 6-7 feet, they need cages of at least 20 feet square area,” Mestri said. For the last three months, vultures have been kept on the office premises of the Shrivardhan Forest Department.
The number of white-backed vultures — once the most common large raptor in the world — has collapsed by more than 99 per cent across the Indian subcontinent, mainly due to the use of diclofenac.
Vultures, which feed on carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac, soon die of kidney failure. While the manufacture of veterinary diclofenac was banned in 2006, the drug formulated for humans is still available.