Oct 14, 2015
Pilibhit: Wildlife experts were filled with joy after spotting endangered vultures in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in the past fortnight. Another vulnerable bird species, the largely terrestrial but not flightless swamp francolin, which is quite rare these days, has also been sighted in the reserve’s grasslands.
The francolin population has been hit by the rapid shrinkage of the tall and wet natural grasslands and conversion of its habitat to other uses. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated its population at 30,000 in 2013. This species is endemic to the terai region of Nepal and Uttar Pradesh. Besides the shrinkage in its natural habitat, the swamp francolin is also hunted for food.
Many vulture species are now in the red list of the IUCN. Conservation centres have been set up to revive the population of these scavenger birds. In the PTR, however, six vulture species have been spotted — Egyptian vulture, griffon vulture, king vulture (also called red-headed), Himalayanvulture, the white-backed one and the cinereous vulture.
Sub-divisional forest officer DP Singh said the vultures were spotted in the Lagga Baggha area of PTR. Akhtar Mia Khan, president of Turquoise Wildlife Conservation Society (TWCS), an NGO active in PTR forests that is currently engaged in research work there, said, “In all, 327 species of birds are found in the forests of PTR. While 193 of these are endemic, 95 are migratory. We still need to properly classify the rest. So far, we have sighted 14 bird species which are either endangered or vulnerable. Besides the six vulture species, there is the Bengal bustard, the forest owlet and swamp francolin.”
The forests of PTR are considered a bigger draw for birds than even Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan, because of the larger area and presence of different types of forests like grasslands, woodland and wetlands. The easy availability of food and dense evergreen forests provide the perfect conditions for many bird species.
In India, the vulture population declined from 40 million in 1990 to less than 60,000 in 2012. The reason was identified as the drug Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug administered to cattle to treat arthritis. When the vultures fed on the carcasses of cattle fed this drug, their kidneys failed.
Vultures feed on the bodies of dead, decaying animals. By taking care of decaying bodies in the wild, the birds would check the spread of infectious disease. They would also enhance the process of mineral return to the soil with their scavenging. As vulture populations dwindle, the population of rodents and stray dogs tend to go up, causing a higher risk of rabies and other diseases.
Akhtar said there were at least 300 vultures in the PTR, from the six species. Officials from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) also visited the forests of Pilibhit. No programme, however, has yet been initiated for the conservation of vultures here.
As posted in Timesofindia.indiatimes.com