Nepal plans to breed vultures in captivity to save dying species

A A A

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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future