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Himalayan Griffons. Wikimedia Commons

In a significant blow to vulture conservation, a mass vulture mortality owing to the poison bait incident was reported in Nepal, severely impacting the population of the critically endangered species in the wild, ornithologists said on Sunday.

At least 69 vultures died in the farmland of the terai last week, said SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vulture from Extinction), a consortium of 24 partners.

Apparently, local villagers illegally used poison to kill stray dogs, and these dog carcasses were then eaten by the vultures, killing them.

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The incident was reported 50 km west from the main vulture release site in Nawalparasi district, prompted a quick response with officials from the Municipality, police, division forest, livestock and veterinary office, NTNC, and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) reaching the scene within hours of the alarm being raised.

Cinereous Vultures. Local people allegedly used poison unlawfully to kill stray dogs, whose carcasses were then consumed by vultures, resulting in their deaths. Wikimedia Commons

Photographs and tissue samples were taken from the birds to firmly establish the cause before the vulture and dog carcasses were buried. A crime scene report has been filed, and SAVE partner, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Department of Forest and Soil Conservation, the Ministry of Forest and environment officials have launched a further investigation and will be following up with punishment as appropriate.

Samples will be tested at the National Forensic Science Laboratory in Kathmandu, says a post on SAVE.

In total, the death toll included 35 white-rumped vultures, one slender-billed (both critically endangered species) 31 Himalayan griffons, and two cinereous vultures (classified as near threatened).

One Himalayan griffon is still alive and now being treated.

Although it was diclofenac that has so dramatically reduced vulture numbers since the 1990s, Nepal has made excellent progress in removing diclofenac from veterinary use, especially through Vulture Safe Zone and other community-based work, as well as clear action of the government in declaring diclofenac illegal for veterinary purposes since 2006.

White-rumped vultures. Wikimedia Commons

The poison baits threat could undermine all the efforts if it is repeated, warns SAVE.

Responding to the shocking incident, BCN CEO Ishana Thapa said, “We have been working to save vultures in Nepal for almost 20 years now, and the progress in breeding the birds, and reaching the stage of releases over the past three years, along with the wild vulture population trends showing significant population increases in recent years, has encouraged us that we, together with all involved in the vulture team are on the right track.”

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“But events like this are a big worry, and we need to do more to ensure this kind of event isn’t repeated.”

SAVE Programme Manager and Co-chair of the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group Chris Bowden said, “We know that the threat of poison baits is the biggest single challenge to vulture populations worldwide, usually when people try to poison dogs or large carnivores but accidentally killing vultures.

“Although diclofenac and other veterinary drugs used on cattle have had the biggest negative impact on vultures across Asia, and this issue still urgently needs more work, addressing the poison-baits threat does need more attention. We can learn from other regions, notably Africa, how it is being addressed elsewhere.” (IANS/KB)



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