Express News Service

CHENNAI: The State Forest Department is planning to conduct a population estimation of endangered vultures alongside the scheduled third and final phase of Tamil Nadu synchronized bird census on March 26-27. Rough estimates show only 200 vultures remain in the wild in Tamil Nadu, predominantly in Moyar valley in Sigur plateau of the Nilgiris forest division. About 180 Oriental white-backed vultures, which is a critically endangered species as per International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list, are found in Moyar.

The numbers of other species like Long-billed vultures, Red-headed vultures and Egyptian vultures have dwindled to double and single digits. Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj told TNIE: “I am writing to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Karnataka and Kerala as well for a synchronized vulture census. In Tamil Nadu, Moyar, Sigur and Satyamangalam are the pockets where vulture population is still found. It is critical to protect them. “

S Bharathidasan, one of the founders of Arulagam and worked on vulture conservation for decades, said the contamination of vulture food supplies with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like diclofenac, which is now banned, was one of the primary reasons for decline in vulture population, not only in Tamil Nadu but across the country.

“Banning diclofenac alone is not enough. There are other veterinary drugs still in use that have similar adverse effects on vultures. Killing of the birds by cattle herders through poisoning, carcass unavailability, and habitat degradation are other reasons for the dwindling vulture population, ”he said.

The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has approved a revised “Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-25”, which proposes setting-up of Vulture Conservation Breeding Centers in important states, including Tamil Nadu. The captive breeding center planned in Sigur reserve forest range in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is yet to take-off due to lack of funds, sources said.

Important objectives in the revised action plan include prevention of poisoning of principal food of vultures ie, cattle carcasses, with veterinary Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) and safety-testing of new veterinary NSAIDs on vultures prior to commercial release. The plan also emphasizes the need for at least one Vulture Safe Zone in each state.

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