After a long-long time, we finally received some good news from our neighboring country Pakistan for a change. White-backed vultures the permanent residents at Tower of Silence in Mumbai were sighted in Jaisalmer. Ornithologists spotted the ‘harbingers of death’ in Jaisalmer’s Desert National Park.
In case you didn’t know, the white-backed vulture is an ‘old world vulture’ often associated with Asia, Africa, and Europe: the old world countries. The scavenger along with its contemporary hunter birds, kites, hawks, eagles and buzzards belongs to the Accipitridae family. Often, we see them soaring over the burial grounds and cemeteries, waiting to feed on human and animal carcasses. Due to the scarcity of food, at times the famished falconers pick up scraps from human habitations.
In 1985, bird-watchers described white-backed ‘Gyps bengalnsis’ the native bird of India as “possibly the most abundant large bird of prey” in the world. Initially, there were 80 million white backed vultures in the Indian subcontinent but the number drastically reduced to a couple of thousands in last three decades. Animal microbiologist, ornithologist, and conservationist Mr. Daulal Bohra expressed his concern over a sharp decline in the number of Indian vultures.
Feeding on corpses of cattle treated with painkillers was the main reason behind their declining number. In the 1990s, animal breeders used Diclofenac (a potent veterinary drug) on the cattle. Following this, four species of vulture were eradicated from the ecosystem. Diclofenac was a threat to vultures.
Seeing their rapidly declining population, the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) listed the birds in the category of ‘lower risk/least concern’ animals. By the next year, they were marked as ‘critically endangered’ on the 2000 IUCN red list. Since 2000, the white-backed vulture is extinct to 99.9% —a source of concern for the environmentalists across the world.
The vulture population witnessed a sharp decline in India between 2000 and 2007. The average annual mortality rate was over 43.9%, and the pace escalated to 99% in last ten to fifteen years. According to the records, approximately 20 to 25 breeding pairs survived in Nagar Parkar in Sindh province. However, it was hard to estimate their exact number in India. To our relief, the IUCN recently sighted them in Jaisalmer.
Animal experts consider it to be a positive sign that highlights the reduction in the pain-killer application in animals in the neighboring country. The veterinarians probably stopped relying on drugs and started using nature ways to cure the cattle. Their increasing numbers can also be attributed to the IUCN’s National Vulture Recovery Action Plan that was implemented in Pakistan. Tharparkar in Sindh area of Pakistan shows the lowest Human Development Index. Naturally, it’s the breeding ground of white backed vultures, especially during the monsoons.
Migration of scavenger birds from Sindh to the Desert National Park shows that they found the Indian habitat conducive for breeding. The vultures fly over 100-kilometer area while hunting for food. They’re rapidly moving out from their home to other regions in search of shelter and food. The arrival of birds in India is permanent or temporary, only time can tell.