Amid the picturesque environs of Raigad district, vultures are flapping their wings as their numbers are slowing spiralling since 2001. Natural efforts to conserve vultures near Mahad in Raigad district over the last 15 years have led to a rise in the bird's population, much to the delight of naturalists. The vulture conservation programme involves two species, and the population of each species had been pegged at 18 in 2001.
Today, the number of the first species, the long-billed vulture (gyps indicus) has gone up to 28 while the number of the Oriental white-backed vulture (gyps bengalensis) is 150.
The conservation programme was taken up by the Society of Eco-Endangered Species Conservation and Protection or Seescap, a non-governmental organization, at Chirgaon in Mhasla.
Conservation work for the long-billed vulture is on at Nanemachi village and for Oriental white-backed vulture at Chirgaon Bagechiwadi. Also, vulture conservation efforts are on along Shrivardhan coast in Raigad, with help from the state forest department.
Chief of Seescap, Premsagar Mistri, said that monitoring of vultures began in 2000."It was found that starvation was the major cause of the falling vulture population. Food resources like carcasses of goats and sheep were provided to vultures. Also, during their breeding season, special attention was paid to them with adequate food," said Mistri.
He added that vultures we re also facing a nesting problem. "The long-billed vulture needs a nest on the hills, at a height of 1,800 feet to 2,500 feet above ground level. The Oriental white-backed vulture nests on trees above 150 feet to 200 feet above the ground. With this in mind, about 24 varieties of trees are planted by roping in villagers and the forest department. The increase in the natural habitat has helped their population grow," said Mistri. An awareness campaign to underscore the need to save vultures is on in Raigad, said resident Dipak Shinde.
Mistri said artificial nests, like enclosures, as well as food which vultures do not consume naturally is not good for the birds. "If these birds are given sterile food, their chicks get various ailments. The government should think of conservation in places where vultures are found, their nests in trees saved and provide food as per nature during breeding season," said Mistri.
Experts from Bombay Natural History Society said that earlier there was a 99% drop in vulture numbers in India for a period of 20 years since the mid-nineties which had set alarm bells ringing among ornithologists across the world.
Research later confirmed that presence of a veterinary drug, diclofenac, among cattle carcasses was responsible for the death of vultures. This non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug administered to cattle proved to be deadly to the birds if they try to ingest the drug-laced carcass.
A spokesperson of the Bombay Natural History Society welcomed the news of the rise in vulture population.Another expert who has been working on a project `important bird areas' said much more awareness of harmful effects of certain drugs and pesticides must be raised to protect vulnerable vultures.
Naturalist and author, Sunjoy Monga, said that all awareness programmes that have been held across the country in order to save vultures have yielded some positive results.''