At least 200 Himalayan Griffon Vultures died in the State of Assam in past year.

 The Himalayan griffon, a migratory bird which comes to Assam every winter from the Himalayan region, has been becoming a victim of poisoning in Assam every year and over 200 vultures, mostly Himalayan griffons, have died in the last one year in Assam. Sources at the the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC), Rani, said that out of the 200 vultures that had been killed in Assam during the past one year, there were at least 10 critically-endangered white-backed vultures (Gyps bengalensis) and slender-billed vultures (Gyps tenuirostris), which has caused serious concern to the naturalists.

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The corpses of dozens of poisoned White-backed vultures 

It may be mentioned here that white-backed vultures and slender-billed vultures, which are resident birds of Assam, are facing extinction at present and over 99 per cent of the population of these two species had already been lost in recent times, compelling the Birdlife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the white-backed and slender-billed vultures in the Critically Endangered categories.The Indian Wildlife (Protection ) Act, 1972 has also included these two species in Schedule I. The white-backed vultures and slender-billed vultures are in the real danger of becoming extinct in another 5-10 years if diclofenac is not effectively and completely banned from veterinary use. Diclofenac is identified as the main culprit of most if not all vulture death. The drug is used as a pain killer for domestic livestock. If an animal dies within 2-3 days of ingestion of diclofenac and the vultures feed on its carcass, they suffer renal failure, causing visceral gout. The three Gyps species (white-backed, slender-billed and long-billed vultures) have declined by 97.99 per cent during the last 15 years,” said a book, Threatened Birds of Assam, written by Asad R Rahmani and Anwaruddin Choudhury.

Slender billed vultures killed by Diclofenac in India

The bodies of Slender-billed vultures killed by Diclofenac in India

Sources said another resident vulture in Assam – the red headed vulture or king vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) is also suffering rapid decline in population and this species has also been listed as Critically Endangered species by the IUCN and Birdlife International – two apex international conservation bodies – which have called for urgent conservation of this species in order to safeguard the species from extinction. It should be mentioned here that The Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC), Rani released as many as 14 Himalayan Griffon (Himalayan vultures) in the wild on Tuesday (March 17) at Jarasal Reserve Forest (RF) near Nalapara in Kamup district. At least 19 Himalayan vultures (Gyps himalayensis) had died and 16 others fell critically sick when they consumed a pesticide-infested cow carcass on March 10 at Majirgaon (Agsia) near the Palasbari-Agsia PWD Road under the Kamrup East Forest Division in Kamrup district.

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Red-headed vulture feeding on the corpse of a dead dog India

Veterinary officials from the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC), Rani, rescued 16 Himalayan vultures (also called Himalayan griffon) after giving preliminary care to them at the incident site and all the sick vultures were brought to the VCBC, Rani (Belguri). While two of the sick vultures died en route to the VCBC, the rest were given treatment at the VCBC, Rani, and they later recovered. “It is believed that the carcass of the cow had been treated with pesticides intended to kill dogs, which resulted in the death of the 21 vultures and 16 vultures becoming sick at Majirgaon near Palasbari in Kamrup district,” said Sachin Ramade, Centre Manager, VCBC, Rani. Ramade has said that the carcass was believed to have been treated with carbofuron-like pesticides and added that the sample of the deceased vultures would be sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in order to ascertain the exact cause of death.

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The corpse of a Griffon vulture poisoned by Diclofenac

The vulture experts of VCBC Rani, however, rule out the death of the 21 vultures due to diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) treatment in the carcass. Sources said that diclofenac is considered as the main cause of large-scale death of vultures in past two decades. Sources said that the Governments of India and Nepal have banned the use of diclofenac for the conservation of vultures, but it is reported that diclofenac is being widely used as a painkiller even now despite the blanket ban. According to Sachin Ramade, the VCBC was set up to breed (and release in the wild) 100 pairs of white-backed and slender-billed vultures in captive condition in a span of 15 years and at present, it has 70 adult vultures which include 39 white-backed vultures and 31 slender-billed vultures. The VCBC, according to Dr Sachin Ramade, has been able to breed nine chicks (five white-backed and four slender-billed vultures ) at the centre till date in captive conditions.

1 comment to At least 200 Himalayan Griffon Vultures died in the State of Assam in past year.

  • Tim Sarney

    Terrible news. Just been in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and was fortunate to see both Griffon and White Backed vultures there. But not common.

    The conservationists (and a District Magistrate) we spoke to there were very familiar with the diclofenac issue and we were assured that everything possible was being done to bring this to an end. Unfortunately education continues to be a problem and poor rural farmers have old stocks of diclofenac which they continue to use.

    (corrected spelling)