Hopes soar after vulture chick hatches
One of the world’s most threatened birds has bred in captivity for the first time in India. The news has given scientists and conservationists further hope for saving Asia’s declining vulture populations.
The single chick, a White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, was hatched at a breeding centre in Pinjore, Haryana, as part of a breeding programme undertaken by BNHS (BirdLife in India) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK). Scientists had not expected the birds to breed successfully in captivity until at least 2008.
“The egg was laid in November and since then, we have been waiting and hoping.” said Dr Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist for the vulture breeding programme at BNHS “This success shows that we have got the conditions right, so now we can plan ahead with confidence to breed many more vultures in the future.”
Captive breeding is being used in India to help ensure that Asian vulture populations recover after populations of three vulture species - White-Rumped Vulture, Indian Vulture Gyps indicus and Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris - declined by more that 95 percent in just three years in the 1990s. Subsequent research found a link between the apparent vulture declines and a veterinary drug, diclofenac, being used in treating livestock. Many millions of vultures are thought to have died as a result of feeding on the carcasses of livestock treated with the drug.
“This success shows that we have got the conditions right, so now we can plan ahead with confidence to breed many more vultures in the future.” —Dr Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist, BNHS
Vultures, being highly efficient scavengers, are a crucial part of South Asia’s ecosystems. In recent years they have continued to decline by between 22 and 48 percent each year.
Vulture numbers are now so low that the birds’ survival is largely dependent on captive breeding success, as well as stopping the use of diclofenac.
The drug is currently being phased out in India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Chris Bowden, Head of the RSPB’s Vulture Conservation Programme said: “The hatching of this vulture chick is a hugely important milestone and shows that the vulture breeding programme really can help save the vultures once diclofenac is removed from the environment.
In January 2006, scientists from the RSPB and the Zoological Society of London proved that the drug meloxicam was a suitable, and safe, alternative to diclofenac. Conservationists are now promoting the use of this safer drug in veterinary practice:
“The increasing availability of meloxicam means that farmers and vets can switch to the new drug. But this must happen immediately if we are to avoid losing the last remaining wild vultures,” urged Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society.