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Vultures to be tracked with transmitters in Maharashtra

 The state forest department and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) will launch an in-situ vulture conservation project in Maharashtra from next month. The Rs 1 crore project will be funded by Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). As part of the project, vultures will be tracked by satellite using a platform transmitter (PTT) to study their foraging range. The birds will be caught and satellite transmitters will be put on their backs, to track their movements. The transmitter will have GPS units attached so accurate information will be available about its location. It would also be possible to obtain vulture carcass if it dies for any reason.


The cause of mortality will be determined by a post mortem. The forest department is implementing a similar project to tag endangered GIBs with the help of Wildlife Institute of India (WII). BNHS is engaged in vulture conservation and captive breeding for nearly a decade now. The in-situ or on-site conservation is conservation of genetic resources in natural populations of plant or animal species. BNHS principal scientist Vibhu Prakash was in the city to discuss the proposal with chief wildlife warden Sarjan Bhagat on Tuesday. "We asked BNHS to modify its proposal and include other vulture landscapes in Thane and Nashik as well. Presently, vultures are found in Pench and Gadchiroli, but we don't have any details about the species and its numbers, except for its distribution in certain pockets," said Bhagat.


Vibhu Prakash said in order to conserve birds on-site, an area of 100km radius (30,000 sq km) around the vulture nesting site needs to be made safe from Diclofenac and other factors affecting vulture population. This is the line of thought behind making vulture safe zones. The project has been initiated in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand by BNHS with state bodies. The initial proposal, submitted by BNHS 15 days ago, is based on locations 100km away from Umred, the main centre. It includes vulture landscape in Pench, Gadchiroli, Yavatmal, Umred, Wardha and Pench and Tadoba tiger reserves. Prakash said the project is for five years. It will help vulture conservation by making sure there is no Diclofenac in vulture food.


This is the drug responsible for the crash in vulture populations and continues to kill vultures. The misuse of multi-dose vials of human formulations of the drug for treating livestock is major problem for vultures. The project will make sure that by advocacy, awareness programmes and executive action, misuse of the drug is stopped in this identified region. The vultures get exposed to the drug when they feed on the carcass of livestock that have died within 72 hours of administration of diclofenac. However, research by city raptor scientist Dr Ajay Poharkar has concluded that vultures in Gadchiroli died due to malaria.


"We will submit a revised proposal this month. Awareness, advocacy and monitoring are the three major components of this whole exercise. The project will include data collection, species identification, getting details about nesting sites, population etc about vulture species," Prakash said. In a span of a few years in the 90s, nearly 99% of vultures in India and other South Asian countries vanished. However, in protected areas like Pench in Maharashtra, their number is now growing.


Times of India, Delhi, 5th June 2014