Project History & Aims
Vultures are key species in the ecosystems where they occur, consuming more dead animals than other scavengers and controlling the spread of disease and surprisingly extremely fussy about keeping clean after eating!
Wild vultures in Pakistan and India have been seriously affected by the use of the veterinary drug diclofenac which becomes toxic to vultures if they eat a dead animal that has been recently treated with the drug. In many areas the population has crashed almost to the point of extinction. The drug has now been banned but large quantities still remain in circulation and large human-use vials are purchased and administered illegally to animals.
The Gyps Vulture Restoration Project is a vital step to secure a future for these birds in Asia. Set up in 2004 the initial project aim was to secure viable populations of these vultures in a safe and protected environment.
Breeding Success For Critically Endangered Oriental White-Backed Vultures At Changa Manga, Pakistan.
Two Oriental white-backed vulture chicks have successfully hatched at the Conservation Breeding Centre at Changa Manga, near Lahore in Pakistan. This is heartening news for this critically endangered species.
Encouragingly, two other pairs of vultures showed signs of breeding behaviour at the centre during the season, which is a promising indicator for future breeding. A third egg, which unfortunately did not hatch, is also encouraging.
Successfully breeding chicks at the centre has been tantalisingly close in previous years; fertile eggs have hatched but sadly have only survived for a short time. The latest two chicks are now both over 6 weeks old and continue to grow well under the watchful eye of their parents.
The long incubation period for Oriental white-backed vultures (about 52 days) and the high risk period immediately after any chick hatches means the long wait for breeding success was full of suspense. In addition, this year the eggs were left in the nest instead of using an incubator, which created further tensions during the wait.
Success with the chicks has led to an awareness session about vultures for the local school, as the Conservation Breeding Centre has strong ties to the local community. In another positive development, evidence from the vulture safe zone field site in southeast Pakistan, suggests that a small colony of wild Oriental white-backed vulture found there is growing in size.
Updates from Pakistan
The project has developed breeding facilities in Pakistan and orphaned birds and some wild caught birds are being cared for in this facility. Breeding of these vultures will then be attempted to increase numbers and hopefully then reintroduce them back into the wild to help stabilise the current population, once the threat of diclofenac poisoning has been vastly reduced.
IVP funded surveys have discovered a new colony of Long-billed Vultures found in the south and more breeding birds in the north of the country.
IVP is also working on pharmacy checks and sampling and testing the quality of the vulture-safe alternative drug meloxicam.
A Vulture Safe Zone in Sindh Province in Pakistan has also been created which operates by identifying an area, usually with a 50 km radius, around a remaining breeding population of vultures. Then the team works intensively with the local communities to remove threats to the vulture’s survival and to raise awareness. The introduction of livestock husbandry camps that aim to improve animal husbandry techniques and reduce the use of veterinary drugs has been very successful.
Updates from Africa
IVP research in South Africa has been investigating the causes of breeding failure in White-backed Vultures and is turning up some very interesting and potentially controversial results. This research is nearly complete ready for publication.
Most importantly IVP have started work on an anti-poisoning strategy with partners in southern Africa. Funding will supply and distribute poison response kits and then helping distribute these along with the workshops and training sessions necessary to deal with these situations.
Despite ample evidence of the devastating impact diclofenac has had on vultures in South Asia, the EU has recently cleared the use of diclofenac for veterinary purposes in the EU. This could have devastating effects for vulture populations in Europe and Africa. A large campaign including RSPB and Birdlife has forced the EC to review the risk and present findings. Opponents argue that Europe is different to South Asia, but in both Italy and Spain, vultures are provided livestock carcasses, either in the field or at carcass dumping sites and conservationists in both region have shown that vultures are exposed to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
How is Banham Zoo supporting the GYPS Restoration Project?
In 2015 Banham Zoo donated £4000 to the GYPS Restoration Project.
A total of £30,526 has been donated by Banham Zoo since 2007.
Photos courtesy of www.hawk-conservancy.org