Buxa (WB): Already on the verge of extinction in India, vultures which were once abundant in West Bengal`s Buxa tiger reserve and its adjoining forest areas may stage a comeback if an ongoing conservation project succeeds.
More than 80 vultures of the critically-endangered white -backed, slender-billed and long-billed species collected from other parts of the state, Assam and Madhya Pradesh have now found a safe nest at a conservation centre in the forest village of Rajabhatkhawa on the outskirts of Buxa.
"We have trapped and collected nestlings of all the three species for breeding them in captivity. In this way we will first establish a founder stock of 25 pairs of each species," says Soumya Sundar Chakraborty, biologist at the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) which runs the centre along with the state forest department.
Once they have produced a population of at least 200 birds of each species in the next 10-15 years, the vultures will then be reintroduced to the wild.
"But we can do so only when the environment in the forest is free of diclofenac drug. Otherwise these vultures will also die," centre manager Sachin Ranade told PTI.
Vultures, which feed on carcasses of animals to survive, die because of the banned diclofenac drug which is administered to livestock.
As a result, the population of all the three species has declined by an alarming rate of over 99 per cent during the last two decades. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified them as critically-endangered.
Vultures are crucial in our ecological cycle as they are scavengers. With their robust digestive system they digest disease-causing pathogens found in rotting meat of dead animals. In this way they help man prevent outbreak of infectious diseases such as anthrax, rabies, etc.
At the centre here, few kms away from Alipurduar, captive breeding of the vultures have already been successful for the slender-billed and white-backed species.
As vultures take 4-5 years to reach breeding stage, it is hoped that more vultures would be breeding at the centre in near future.
Built on an area of 5 acre land, the conservation centre, started in 2005, keeps the birds in natural surroundings but under full safety.
The centre has quarantine, hospital nursery and holding aviaries and a small laboratory.
Also two large colony aviaries which are open to sky but with a mesh to cover the top and keep it safe from attack by wild animals and monkeys.
The endangered birds, which are monitored through CCTV cameras, are fed on diclofenac-free goat meat.
"These are social birds and they even eat together. There are complex social relations among the flock- members and hence are kept together in a colony," pointed out Chakraborty.
The centre already has the distinction of being the first one in the world to have bred the slender-billed vulture in captivity in 2009. Now they are hoping to breed the long- billed species also.