90% drop in vulture population in Kundian
By Shoaib Ahmed

LAHORE: There has been a 90 percent decrease in the population of white-back vultures (Gys bengalensis) in Kundian near Mianwali in three months, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) survey.

In March 2005, the Punjab Wildlife Department (PWD) observed 650 white-back vultures in Kundian. Only 71 vultures were spotted in Kundian in a WWF survey in June, said Uzma Khan, WWF project coordinator.

She said that of the 60 nests explored, only 17 nests showed signs of life. Khan said 93 percent of nests were on Shisham trees and the rest were on Sumbal trees.

She said that a formal survey in collaboration with the PWD was underway and its details would be revealed soon.

The vulture population in South Asia is critically endangered. The main cause of this decline is diclofenac, a widely used anti-inflammatory drug in livestock. Vultures that feed on the carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac develop kidney problems and die.

In 2001, it was reported that there had been a 50 percent drop in the vulture population, but the recent studies have put the figure at 90 percent. According to PWD experts, the remaining vultures could vanish in months if preventive measures are not taken. “Vultures are extremely important to a healthy eco system and their extinction will lead to loss of biodiversity and shrinking of the gene pool,” they said.

PWD sources said that various wildlife forums have been asked to submit recommendations on how to save this critically endangered species. They said that the first recommendation they received was to ban diclofenac use in veterinary medicines.

The Punjab government is planning a ‘two-phase captive breeding’ programme for vultures, both white-backed and long-billed (G.indicus), to save them from extinction. The programme will probably be at Changa Manga.

According to project documents, in the first phase, 75 white-backed vultures, 64 nestlings and 11 adults, would be collected to form 25 pairs. Closed-circuit television cameras would be installed at Changa Manga to monitor the birds.

A slaughterhouse, livestock corrals and freezers would be built near aviaries to ensure the vultures are fed meat not contaminated by diclofenac.

Sources said that international agencies related to vulture conservation were being contacted to fund this project.

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