Rarest vultures join breeding programme
The first Slender-billed Vultures have been taken into the Indian vulture conservation breeding centres run by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).
The Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris is the rarest of the three species whose populations have been decimated by the veterinary drug diclofenac. Although a new alternative, meloxicam, that is not harmful to vultures has been identified, two captive breeding centres have been set up in the meantime. Vultures and their offspring will be housed at Pinjore, Haryana, and at Rajabhatkhawa, outside the Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal. When the environment is diclofenac-free they will be reintroduced to the wild. Pinjore is supported by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative, with the RSPB helping to fund the Rajabhatkhawa centre.
So far 18 Slender-billed Vultures including 16 sub-adults and two juveniles, have been caught in Assam by BNHS trappers. 14 birds have been flown to the Pinjore centre and four birds are being kept in the newly-built quarantine aviaries at the Rajabhatkhawa Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre. Sachin Ranade of Bombay Natural History Society, who is in charge of the centre, commented, "The Slender-billed Vulture is the rarest species and nobody before us has ever attempted captive breeding of these vultures anywhere in the world."
Over the coming months it is planned to house up to 25 pairs of Slender-billed Vulture at Rajabhatkhawa, along with similar numbers of Indian Gyps indicus and White-rumped Vultures G. bengalensis. These two species are already housed in good numbers at Pinjore.