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Vultures spotted after 3 years

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By TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
  • Published 16.10.05
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Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh), Oct. 16: Bird lovers predicted doom. Environmentalists wondered who would clean up nature’s waste. And Parsis feared what would happen to their dead.

They needn’t worry anymore. The vultures are back.

The scavenger birds, which had suddenly disappeared from states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, were spotted late last month in the Katarinaghat wildlife sanctuary here, the white streak in their wings visible as they sat on treetops.

“These vultures have a white downy covering on their head and neck,” said a forest warden.

Forest officials believe the birds are from a family of Kole vultures of Egypt. “We have counted at least 15 of them. There may be more. This is the first time these Egyptian vultures have been seen here,” said divisional forest officer, Bahraich, Romesh Chandra Pandey.

Spread over an area of 400 square kilometres near the border with Nepal, the sanctuary is home to animals like tigers, leopards, wild boars and different types of deer. But vultures, once regular visitors, were not seen for the past three years.

“A couple of factors may have attracted these vultures here,” said Pandey. “First, it could be the vegetation. But more important, it could be the waters of the Gairwa river, which criss-crosses the forest and is still pollution-free.”

“We are inviting wildlife experts who specialise in vulture research to see if the birds could be made to remain long in India,” Ehsan Ahmed, chief wildlife warden, said in state capital Lucknow.

“The arrival of the new species will give a boost to research in captive breeding of vultures in India,” said another wildlife officer.

Before the arrival of the birds, environmentalists had puzzled over the dwindling vulture population in the country over the last 12 years. Some blamed diclofenac, a painkiller administered to cattle and sheep. They said the vultures, which feed on dead animals, succumbed to the drug’s after-effects.

Ornithologist Debbie Pain, of the UK’s Royal Society, was quoted as describing the declining vulture population of South Asia as catastrophic.

Worried also were Parsis, who leave their dead to be eaten by vultures.

In 1999, the Bombay Natural History Society had marked a 97 per cent drop in the population of oriental white-backed vultures in the Gangetic plains. The BNHS later recommended banning diclofenac. Last year, the Prime Minister endorsed the recommendation.

Casual queries at medicine stores in Uttar Pradesh, however, revealed that the drug is still used.

When told that the painkiller is still sold, a senior officer of the state’s drug control department said it would take “some time” before diclofenac is removed from drug stores.