The Asian White Backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) is Critically endangered, it listed on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list – and if you don’t believe me check it out for yourself here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22695194/0
But it’s not just the Asian White Backed Vulture, its the African White Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), the Indian Black Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and Ruppells Griffon Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) to name just a few.
African White Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
African White Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
It’s a sad state of affairs when you have to stop listing the number of critically endangered species of Vulture for fear of writing a shopping list instead of an informative article…
But why are they endangered and what can we do about it?
Talking on a broad level, there are many of reasons a species becomes endangered. Be that habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, over predation of the species or its prey, trafficking, poisoning, disease, the list continues.
I’m going to stick to focussing on the plight of the Asian Vulture, and two key factors which have been identified to be contributing to their decline.
Diclofenac – the reason Indian Vultures are on the brink of extinction
Diclofenac is a drug, which was prescribed to treat pain in cattle in India for a number of years in the 1980s. No-one knew at the time that the drug would be poisonous to vultures, who, being carrion feeding species, when eating a cattle carcass received a dose of the drug, and as a result suffered kidney failure, gout and eventually death.
The Vulture populations declined dramatically, 97% of the vulture population was lost over 10 years, and the drug was banned in India in 2006 as a result of its direct link to their death.
But it’s not only the vultures that suffer. Vultures play a vital role in removal of dead and decaying matter from the environment and therefore prevent a build up of waste, which ultimately leads to disease. When their numbers declined, there was an increase in decaying carcasses in the environment, increased vermin, disease and greater numbers of wild animals such as leopards venturing into human settlements.
Vultures lost and so did humans.
The Kite Festival or Uttarayan, as it is known locally, is a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It occurs every year, and locals take to the roof terraces in Ahmedabad and surrounding areas, to fly a kite, with the aim being to bring down their opponents kite. In order to do this, they coat the kite string in powdered glass.
Birds of prey, migratory birds, and the critically endangered white backed vulture to name a few, are the avian casualties who get entangled in these kite strings and suffer devastating injuries, such as wing lacerations and fractures, as a result.
To make matters worse, with a breeding season between November and March, for the small numbers of surviving vultures, January is often the time when it will hatch its eggs, and take to the skies more frequently in search of food, dramatically increasing its chances of becoming a victim of this celebration.
It is a sad but relevant fact however, that far fewer vultures are injured in this festival compared to other avian species due to their very low numbers in the wild. As you can imagine, the few that do fall victim are an even bigger blow for the species as a result.
What can we do about it?
Some of you may be aware, but I am due to be travelling to India in January, working with the charity Wildlife Vets International, to assist a local welfare organisation, Jivdaya Charitable Trust, in providing medical care for birds injured during the Kite Festival.
Wildlife Vets International are currently campaigning to raise funds for this project, to provide the medical care and equipment necessary to keep this project going. They have a programme, known as the Raptor Rehabilitation Programme, which has the aim of reintroducing as many injured birds as possible, back to the wild. The kite festival is just one of the targets of this programme.
Any donation would be greatly appreciated for this amazing cause. As I will be assisting on the project this year, I will be writing a blog update on the project so you will be able to see exactly where your money goes, and why it is so so vital this project gets the support it deserves.
If you want to donate please click this link: https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/projects/view/28285
Any donation made between the 28th November- 5th December 2017 may be doubled by a matched funding organisation!
* please note the featured image (top of page and cover photo) is an African White Backed Vulture – I have not seen an Asian one to have a photo of it! 🙁