In 2009 the Birds of Prey Centre raised €3000 for the Vulture rescue program in Nepal. This money was used in two ways:
1. To help build a new “Vulture Safe Zone” In the Pokhara area of Nepal. This is an area free from diclofenac, where old and unwanted cattle are bought from the local people and put out to pasture until they die of natural causes. They are then skinned, with the hides going to the local people providing some level of income, and thereby helping them to purchase more old cattle. In one of the Vulture Safe Zones, near Chitwan National Park, the number of nesting pairs has increased from 17 to 45.
2. To help buy up the remaining veterinary diclofenac in the new Pokhara Vulture safe Zone. 1,500 vials and 13,000 tablets of diclofenac were collected and destroyed.
In 2010, staff from the centre travelled to Nepal to implement their skills in helping with the Vulture Rescue Program. We visited the breeding centre and its birds that we had helped collect and rear in 2008. We also monitored the vultures in the Annapurna conservation area and in the Pokhara foothills.
Tens of millions of vultures used to be present across India, Pakistan and Nepal. Since the early 1990s three vulture species have undergone catastrophic declines. Populations have decreased by at least 99.9% in India over the last 12 years and 92% in five years in Pakistan. Vulture numbers continue to decline at around 50% a year, placing these three critically endangered species on the brink of extinction.
Extensive research has identified the cause of the decline to be diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug routinely administered to livestock in Asia. Vultures are exposed to the drug when they consume carcasses of animals that were treated with diclofenac a few days before death. Diclofenac is highly toxic to vultures, causing them to die of kidney failure.
The potential loss of these vulture species has profound ecological and social consequences in Asia. Vultures play a vital role in the ecosystem, by rapidly disposing of carcasses that would otherwise pose a risk of disease. With the decline of vultures, there has been a dramatic increase in feral dog numbers, which pose a real risk to human health and safety.
Vulture Rescue aims to halt the vulture declines, and to minimise the ecological and social costs of the decline in the three species.
Catching and building for Nepal’s breeding centre in 2008 nestlings were held at the temporary aviary in Pokhara for two weeks, prior to being transported to the breeding centre in Chitwan.
During this time a raptor husbandry training programme was run by falconer James Irons and Dr Binab Karmacharya (Veterinary Officer, NTNC, Kathmandu Central Zoo) for the three newly appointed NTNC vulture keepers (Kalpana Thapa, Hari Chandra Bote and Ranjan Choudhary).
The 14 chicks were safely transported to Sauraha (Chitwan on the 29th March) where they were held in a rapidly constructed temporary home prior to being released in the completed Kasara aviary a few days later. All 14 chicks gained weight and developed well throughout their captivity and transport, and were all still doing well six months later in September 2008.