Captive breeding of endangered vultures successful

Two of the most rare and critically-endangered species of vultures have been bred successfully in captivity at a conservation centre in Assam.

Last Updated: Sep 02, 2012, 14:56 PM IST

Guwahati: Raising hopes of saving it from extinction, two of the most rare and critically-endangered species of vultures have been bred successfully in captivity at a conservation centre in Assam, officials announced today.

A nestling each of the White-backed species and Slender-billed ones have hatched in captivity at the centre, located 40 kms from here at Rani, state principal conservator of forest (wildlife) Suresh Chand said.

Born more than four months ago, the nestlings are healthy now.

Suresh said Slender-billed vulture has a special significance as the species is now mainly confined to the state and has almost disappeared from most of its distribution range in India which was from Himachal Pradesh to Assam.

Regarded as the most endangered vulture in the country, only an estimated 1000 birds remain in the wild.

Established in 2007 as a collaborative project of the Assam forest department and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the centre houses 25 White-backed ones and 22 Slender-billed species, most of which were caught from the wild as juveniles. The birds take almost five years to reach adulthood.

Conservationist Sachin Ranade, who is supervising the project, said the successful breeding has given them confidence that their husbandry and care protocols for the birds are good.

Crucial in ecological cycle as scavengers, vultures have a
digestive system robust enough to even 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.

Vultures, which feed on carcasses of animals to survive, die because of the banned diclofenac drug which is still administered to livestock illegally, officials said.

Classified as critically-endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the population of vultures has been declined by an alarming rate of over 99 per cent during the last two decades.

At the conservation centre, the vultures are kept in near natural condition in a big colony aviary and are fed diclofenac-free meat, the sources said.

The objective of the centre is to house 25 pairs each of White-backed vultures and Slender-billed vultures and release 100 pairs of each of the species in wild in the next few years.

The release programme is expected to begin in 2016, centre manager Ranade said while cautioning that they can do so only if the drug diclofenac is not present in vulture food.