Vulture conservationists want the breeding centre and release centre to be in close proximity for proper coordination of activities.

A long-billed vulture sitting on a rockAll photos by B Shashikumar
Features Conservation Friday, October 09, 2020 - 18:49

A breeding centre to revive the dwindling Long-billed and White-rumped vulture population was announced by the Karnataka state government in this year’s budget. Unfortunately, this plan not taken shape, owing to the delay in finding an ideal location for the centre. Forest officials reportedly want the centre to be at Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) near Bengaluru, while vulture conservationists find Chikkamannugudde, a forest patch near Ramanagara, to be an ideal site.

As per plans, BBP will be the site of the breeding centre while Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary in Ramanagara, the first of its kind in the country, will be the release centre. Long-billed vultures in particular are under threat at the sanctuary, as their numbers have fallen from about 20 in the last decade to just four this season. Vulture conservationists want the breeding centre and release centre to be in close proximity for proper coordination of activities.

Panoramic view of Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary
When Kranti Kumar was the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Ramanagara, a few years ago, a plan was drawn to save long-billed and white-rumped vultures in the region. Accordingly, Dr Vibhu Prakash, Deputy Director of the Vulture Breeding Centre and Vulture Safe Zone, Bombay Natural History Society, identified Chikkamannugudde as an ideal location for the breeding centre and Ramadevarabetta as the release centre.

B Shashikumar, secretary of the Karnataka Vulture Conservation Trust, questions the rationale of the forest officials in choosing BBP as the location. He explains that the officials must consider Chikkamannugudde, as it is close to Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary, where there is normal distribution of the species.

In addition, Shashikumar fears that setting up a vulture breeding centre at Bannerghatta does not fulfil the pre-requisites of a breeding centre as mentioned in the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) manual. According to the document, any breeding centre should be 5 km away from wild birds or animals kept in captivity, says Shashikumar. He adds that as the birds are to be released into the wild, they must not be exposed to pathogens. It is to be noted that BBP has several birds and animals in captivity.

Another factor to prefer Chikkamannugudde, according to vulture conservationists, is that the breeding centre should be a degraded patch of forest land with very few trees in the vicinity. Besides, Chikkamannugudde is only 13 km from Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary whereas Bannerghatta is 47 km away, making it difficult to properly coordinate conservation and research activities.

Another point that Shashikumar had made to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) was that the location of the breeding centre should have no poultry farms in a radius of 25 km. However, poultry farms thrive around BBP, which poses a risk to vultures. He also points out that the breeding centre should be well connected by rail and road so that specialised veterinary facilities in big cities can be easily accessed.

Long-billed vulture
To mount pressure on forest officials to set up the breeding centre at Chikkamannugudde, Chris Bowden, International Species Recovery Officer and Save Vulture Programme Manager, made a presentation to senior forest officials in Bengaluru on Wednesday. He explained the various criteria on which location selection should be based, and impressed on them the need to have a breeding centre at Chikkamannugudde, among other steps to recover the vulture population in Karnataka.

“A breeding centre close to a release centre will be an advantage. Keeping away from poultry units will eliminate disease risks. A location far from visitor facilities will also be helpful,” he observed.

However, Bowden says that forest officials are considering a new location for the breeding centre a little distance from BBP. He says that the new site needs to be evaluated in detail.

Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Subhash Malkhede tells TNM that the location of the vulture breeding centre is yet to be finalised. If any conservationists have an ideal location in mind, they can share it with forest officials, he adds.

“We have sought expert opinion and Dr Vibhu Prakash has been invited to locate an ideal site for the breeding centre and also release sites,” he says, adding, “Owing to COVID-19, Vibhu Prakash has not been able to arrive in Bengaluru from Haryana.”

The APCCF assured that a suitable location will be identified and proper steps will be initiated to start the breeding centre for vultures.

Girisha is a freelancer who writes on wildlife and environmental issues.

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