Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sad story continues, vultures dwindle to 1,000 in Gujarat

Sad story continues, vultures dwindle to 1,000 in Gujarat
DNA By Jumana Shah

As the world marked the International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday, the news of the mythological Jatayu is gloomy in Gujarat. For the third consecutive year, the vulture population in the state has dipped substantially.

The latest census concluded by the forest department last month reveals a drop of close to 28% in the numbers of the endangered species.

Though the department is yet to officially announce the results, sources said that the final estimated population in the state is just above 1,000 birds right now.

The good news, if any, is that the rate of decrease has been marginally checked since the last census in 2007, which witnessed a fall of 45% in the birds' population over the 2005 estimate. Vultures, protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Conservation Act, are among the most critically endangered species in the country. Conservationists anticipate that if the decline in their population continues at the current rate, the species will become extinct in India in the next seven years.

"Vulture conservation is a priority for us. Though the final figures are being compiled and there is an overall dip, we draw heart from the fact that the rate of decline is lower than last time," director of GEER Foundation Bharat Pathak said.
Sources indicate that news is not bad across all districts in the state.

"Some districts have, in fact, registered an increase in the population. Researchers at GEER involved in the study have gone into the depth of the issue this time to study the reasons for the rise or fall in population for each district," he said.

An active vulture conservationist with Birds Conservation Society of Gujarat, Kartik Shastri said that though the census exercise is a commendable attempt to figure out their total population, the forest department now needs to seriously look at conservation activities.

"Just discussing the rise or fall in population is not enough. Since the census concluded last month, we have reported seven vulture deaths in Ahmedabad. The point is who will undertake conservation?" he asked.

A medicine called diclofenac, which is used to treat livestock and is consumed by vultures while feeding on animals' carcasses, is believed to be the main cause of vulture deaths and therefore the decline in its population.

This apart, urbanisation, lack of awareness among villagers about vulture breeding, and lack of safe feeding sites are reasons for their disappearance.

While conservationists in areas like Kutch and Surendranagar have reported a decline in numbers, Ahmedabad city and Girnar Hill in Junagadh seem to have reported a healthy population.

Incidentally, naturalists in these regions are up in arms against the government over the proposed construction of a ropeway to the top of the hill which, they claim, passes through vulture habitat.

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