India released its first captive-bred endangered vultures

A successful breeding programme is giving Indian’s vultures a boost after they dropped by over 97% in the 90s.

Eight critically endangered white-rumped vultures, which were bred in captivity in West Bengal by a team of researchers from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), were released in February early this year. This breeding scheme, led by assistant director Sachin Ranade, is part of conservation efforts to save India’s Gyps vultures.

Similar releases took place in January in West Bengal, and in Haryana in Ocotber 2020 when eight birds were set free from the world’s largest vulture breeding facility. Those captive-bred vultures were the first to be released into the wild since conservation efforts started 20 years ago to protect three endangered species: the slender-billed, the white-rumped, and the long-billed or Indian vulture.

The numbers of vultures had decreased drastically in the 1990s largely due to the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called diclofenac which was routinely used to treat cattle. Vultures, which feed on the bovine carcasses, would get poisoned and die.

Breeding vultures is a slow process as it takes them five years to mature and they only lay one egg per year. The BNHS team has been using natural and artificial incubation methods to raise chicks of the three critically endangered species in captivity and is now reporting a total of over 700 vultures across the breeding centres.

Dr Vibhu Prakash, the deputy director of BNHS, said to the Guardian: “We have to ensure that we follow best veterinary practices, that their food is not contaminated and carcasses are disposed of properly. There is hope, but it depends on how responsible society becomes.”

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