Nepal plans to breed vultures in captivity to save dying species


As recently as two decades ago, an estimated 50,000 nesting pairs of vultures lived in the wilds of Nepal. Today, that number may be as low as 500.

Ravaged by the effects of a poison that is used to treat inflammation in cattle, several species of the carrion-eating birds have been pushed towards the edge of extinction. Now, in a desperate effort to save them, Nepal is set to open its first breeding centre dedicated to rearing vultures that can be released into the wild.

"This is just a beginning and more pairs will be subsequently trapped and released," said Dev Ghimire, an official with Bird Conservation Nepal. "It is a very important project and needs long-term commitment."

It is not just Nepal that has seen its vulture population tumble in the past 20 years. In India and Pakistan, some estimates suggest the populations of three species of vulture have fallen by 97 per cent. In India, the situation has become so bad that in places such as Mumbai, members of the Parsee community who carry out "sky burials" at the "towers of silence", in which vultures pick clean the bodies of the dead, have had to find alternative methods. In some cases, Parsee communities – Zoroastrians who do not permit either burial or cremation – have tried using magnifying lenses to increase the sun's force to incinerate the remains because there are insufficientbirds to perform the task. Those solar panels have only been partly successful and have caused widespread controversy.

Across the sub-continent, the depletion of the vultures has been caused by diclofenac, a drug used to treat inflammation in cows and buffaloes. Harmless to the animals it is used to treat, it causes kidney failure in the birds that feed on the carrion of the cattle. For several years, international bird groups have campaigned for it to be banned – a move that India took in May 2006, followed by Nepal and Pakistan several months later.

Bird Conservation Nepal has already established several feeding areas across the country for vultures, using the carcasses of toxin-free cattle. "The vultures' restaurants are attracting the birds from distant places raising the hope that the uncontaminated diet would help recover the South Asian birds under critical decline," said the group.

Mr Ghimire told Reuters that the group had been looking to India for help. "We can use the techniques and expertise applied by conservationists in India which also has vulture breeding centres," he said. "But it will take at least three or four years before we can expect to release the young birds bred at the centre into the wild."

The group's plan is to capture at least 10 breeding pairs for both of the two species that are critically endangered in Nepal – the white-rumped and slender-billed vultures. Initially, they will be kept in two aviaries in Chitwan National Park,50 miles from Kathmandu. They will be caught from March during the breeding season when it is easier to trap them, said Mr Ghimire.

Nepal's government's stepped in to prohibit the use and production of diclofenac after veterinary companies produced an alternative, meloxicam, that was just as cheap. Campaigners say that promoting the use of meloxicam by farmers in key vulture areas across the country remains a vital task if the birds are to have a chance of recovering their former numbers.

Britain's Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds has been involved in projects to inform farmers of the alternative.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam