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Tripura vulture population dwindles

Agartala, Sept. 27: Only 55 vultures are left in Tripura — a revelation that is being contemplated with concern by environmentalists here.

The disturbing statistic was revealed through a survey conducted by a 10-member team of experts under the Tripura forest department. Tripura chief wildlife warden Ajit Kumar Bhowmik said the committee was constituted in 2008 and it submitted its report early this year.

Of the 55, 27 vultures were sighted in different parts of Khowai district, two in South Tripura’s Trishna wildlife sanctuary, 24 in Belonia subdivision and only two in Sipahijala wildlife sanctuary.

The familiar sight of vultures swooping down on carcasses of animals has become a rare sight over the past few decades.

“The calamitous reduction in the number of vultures is a dangerous development. Vultures are scavengers which consume all dead beings but never spread germs. In their absence, the carcasses will be consumed by dogs, crows or other animals and birds, all of which will spread deadly germs, viruses and bacteria,” Bhowmik said.

He said animals and birds were associated with deities by Hindu saints and seers only to protect them from destruction or extinction and, in turn, maintain ecological balance. “The saints and seers were greatly prescient men who realised that unless a sense of fear and awe was created in the minds of people, nothing would deter them from wanton destruction of lives.”

He attributed the rapid decline in the number of vultures to loss of habitat like tall and leafy trees in the forests and consumption of diclofenac, a medicine commonly used to cure ailments in cattle. “This particular medicine creates a toxin in bodies of dead animals and when vultures consume these, they die of poisoning.”

Quoting from a report compiled by the Bombay Nature History Society, Bhowmik said in the early eighties of the last century, India had a total vulture population of 20 million but by the year 2009, their population dipped to less than 1 per cent of that figure.

“Unless steps are taken on a priority basis to protect the vultures, the consequences will be dangerous. But since the matter is now a worldwide concern something will hopefully be done. Already, September 1 has been declared World Vulture Day and this will help generate awareness among people about the importance of protecting all species of this mystical bird,” he said.