Vulture chick inspires conservationists to 'carrion'

Vultures on the Indian sub continent have been decimated in recent years by exposure to a commonly-used veterinary drug which helps livestock but is toxic to the scavengers.

Indian vultures have been thrown a life-line

Indian vultures have been thrown a life-line

While perhaps not the most cuddly of creatures, vultures play a vital waste management role clearing up carcasses. Numbers of the three Asian vulture species have declined by 97 to 99% since the introduction of diclofenac, leading to a rise in disease as animal remains are left to rot.

Large packs of wild dogs now feed on carcass dumps increasing the threat of rabies
and other diseases. Water pollution is also a risk because feral dogs are less
effective at cleaning carcasses.

The drug is now being phased out in India, Pakistan and Nepal but concerns about the future of the vultures remain.

This week a breeding centre in northern India reported that an Oriental white-backed vulture chick had hatched - the first member of this species to be bred in captivity.

This is a positive step in the race against extinction as the centre was not expecting to successfully fledge a chick until next year at the earliest.

Dr Vibhu Prakash, principle scientist for the vulture breeding programme said: "This is the most precious new year gift from nature to vulture conservation. The egg was laid in November and since then, we have been waiting and hoping.

"This success shows that we have got the conditions right, so now we can plan ahead with confidence to breed many more vultures in the future."

The environmental impact of diclofenac and the knock on effects of the vultures' decline have been a concern to conservationists around the world (see related story).

Chris Bowden, head of the RSPB's Vulture Conservation Programme said: "The
hatching of this vulture chick is a hugely important milestone and shows that the
vulture breeding programme really can help save the vultures once diclofenac is
removed from the environment.

"Most of the 130 vultures at the breeding centres were collected as nestlings, so are far too young to breed. So this early sign of success gives us confidence that the
conservation breeding programme is on track."

Sam Bond



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