New nestlings bring cautious hope for Asia's Threatened vultures
The Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris has been successfully bred in captivity for the first time, raising hopes that captive breeding has the potential to save this and other Critically Endangered Asian vultures.
Two Slender-billed Vultures - which are rarer and more threatened in India than the tiger - have been reared at dedicated breeding centres in India, along with three White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis (another Critically Endangered species). It is estimated that only 1,000 Slender-billed Vultures remain in the wild and their population is decreasing dramatically every year.
Last year saw the first successful captive breeding of White-rumped Vultures and there are encouraging signs that a third Critically Endangered species, Indian Vulture Gyps indicus, may breed in the centres next year.
Chris Bowden of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) is in charge of the Society's Asian vulture programme. He said: "This news is a huge boost to those of us fighting to save Asian vultures, which face extinction in the wild within the next decade unless we can prevent the veterinary use of Diclofenac, which causes acute kidney failure in vultures consuming the carcasses of treated livestock."
A recent study found the Indian population of White-rumped Vultures is dropping by more than 40% every year in India. This is one of the fastest recorded rates of decline for any species. For every 1,000 White-rumped Vultures recorded in India in 1992, only one remains today. Numbers of Indian and Slender-billed Vultures together, have fallen by almost 97% since 1992.
Scientists believe numbers of White-rumped Vultures in India could now be down to fewer than 11,000 individuals from tens of millions in the 1980s. Populations of Indian and Slender-billed Vultures have dropped to around 45,000 and 1,000 birds respectively.
"Asian vultures face extinction in the wild within the next decade unless we can prevent the veterinary use of Diclofenac" —Chris Bowden, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)
The vultures' catastrophic decline has been driven by the veterinary drug Diclofenac. The birds die of kidney failure after eating the carcasses of livestock that have died within a few days of treatment with the drug.
Manufacture of the veterinary form of Diclofenac, used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for livestock, was outlawed in India in 2006, and although these veterinary formulations are disappearing, equally dangerous human formulations are instead being used to treat livestock.
Captive-breeding programmes are a vital part of the effort to save the vultures. One of the Slender-billed Vultures fledged this year was bred at the Pinjore centre, in Haryana, and the second at Rajabhat Khawa, in West Bengal. This year's three White-rumped Vultures were also fledged at Pinjore, in Haryana.
"This news is hugely exciting. It is clear we are refining our expertise, but with extinction in the wild likely in the next 10 years, we do not have a moment to waste. The more vultures that we can bring into captivity means a better chance of survival for these rapidly-declining species", said Chris Bowden. "Birds can only be saved from extinction through banning the retail sale of Diclofenac, promotion of the safe alternative, Meloxicam, and the capture of more birds for the breeding programme."
Dr Vibhu Prakash, Head of the Bombay Natural History Society's (BNHS, BirdLife in India) Vulture Breeding Programme, said: "As many more of the young birds reach maturity over the next two years, we confidently anticipate that breeding will really take off".
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Credits: RSPB, BNHS