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International Vulture Awareness Day: Is government's initiative enough to save vultures?

  • Published at 10:29 pm September 7th, 2019
web-vultures
A number of white-rumped vultures, also known as 'Raj Shokun', spotted in Mongla, Bagerhat Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the most endangered species in the world, not just in Bangladesh, is the vulture

The balance of wildlife, and biodiversity is being destroyed almost everywhere on earth due to man-made alterations. Although Bangladesh was once rich in biodiversity, it is now almost at the bottom. 

In the meantime, huge forests have been destroyed, numerous animals, and birds have disappeared. Another wildlife, the wolf, is struggling to survive in the country because of man-made reasons. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the most endangered species in the world, not just in Bangladesh, is the vulture.

Only one species survives in the country

Among all the species of vultures on earth, only seven species of vultures existed in Bangladesh. Among those, Bangla Shakun (White-rumped vulture), Himalayee Shakun (Himalayan Griffin), Shoru-thuti Shakun (Slender-Billed vulture), and Raj Shakun (Red-headed vulture) were the resident birds. Of those, only Bangla Shakun (Gyps Bengalensis) is still surviving in the country, while others have become extinct.

In addition, there are three other species of vultures that can be seen in Bangladesh - Cinereous Vulture, Eurasian Griffon, and White Vulture (Egyptian Vulture). They come to Bangladesh mainly as migratory birds in the winter season.

According to the Forest Department, and the IUCN survey, there were 100,000 vultures in Bangladesh in 1990. But in the span of just one era, the number, plummeting by 99.99%, was reduced to only 550 in 2012.

According to the latest data from IUCN, there are currently only 268 in Bangladesh. The IUCN has declared vultures 'critically endangered', considering the situation.

The reason for extinction 

In 2003, Professor Lindsay Oak of the US College of Veterinary Medicine found in her research that one of the main causes of extinction of the vulture was the use of "diclofenac", and "ketoprofen" which were being used for the treatment of domestic animals. 

"Even after the demise of the cattle due to the use of this chemical, the side effects remain active within the carcass of the animal. The vulture dies within a few hours upon partaking the flesh of the rotten corpse due to the effect of the chemicals," she mentioned in her report.

According to Lindsay's study, only 0.22 milligrams of "diclofenac" is sufficient for the death of a vulture. In the 1980s, the chemical spread throughout the Indian subcontinent. As the chemical was inexpensive, the farmers began to use it on the cattle. 

File photo: Environmental Science Discipline of Khulna University brought out a rally marking the International Vulture Awareness Day on Sunday, September 9, 2018 |Dhaka TribuneBut according to the research of the Indian veterinarians, it has been discovered that "diclofenac" and "ketoprofen" are required for only 0.4% of the diseases of the cattle.

In addition, according to the Birds List Organization, an association of IUCN, a large number of vultures are killed every year due to excessive pesticides, and fertilizers, contamination of various diseases in water pollution, collision with aircrafts, and use of limbs in the manufacture of medicine. 

Not only food crisis but also low birth rates, and various other causes of habitat crisis due to the destruction of large trees are also the main causes, they said.

However, "diclofenac" and "ketoprofen", food shortages, and the destruction of habitable trees are the three main causes of the disappearance of the vultures in Bangladesh, said IUCN Country Director Rakibul Amin.

According to bird scientists, if such a calamity continues, the vulture will be lost from the country by 2025.

Why Vulture needs to be preserved

For millennia, the vulture has been acting as a disease repellent, and cleaning up the environment by removing dead bodies from nature.

When contacted, the founder of Bangladesh Bird Club, and a member of the National Committee for the Preservation of Vulture, Dr Enamul Haque, told Dhaka Tribune: "The germs of diseases found in the dead animals are not digested by other animals. Instead, it spreads out through excrements. But there is a juice inside the stomach of the vulture which assists in the digestion of the germs easily. Thus, people are saved from the risk of contamination from these diseases."

But due to the reduction in numbers of the vultures, these diseases are proliferating along with creating an imbalance in nature, and putting various species at risk, he added.

"It may be assumed that in the urban areas, the dead bodies are being removed by the city corporations and in the rural areas, this work is being carried out on private initiative," he said.

"But who will remove the dead animals in the forests and jungles?" he said, adding that this responsibility is carried out by vultures to keep the environment clean as well as to maintain biodiversity.

Vulture preservation in various countries

According to IUCN, about 90% of the world's vultures have become extinct. In the eighties, in the SAARC countries alone, there were about 400,000,000 vultures. At present, it has reduced to 40,000. Considering the situation, the organization declared the species 'critically endangered". 

Our neighbours India, Pakistan, and Nepal have long taken initiatives to conserve the vultures. 

What the government is doing?

The Vulture Conservation Movement has been started in 2006 as a wing of the Bangladesh Bird Club, to prohibit the production, import and marketing of the deadly "diclofenac". Responding to the movement, the government banned the production, import, and marketing of "diclofenac" in 2010.

Asked what kind of initiative was taken by the government or the forest department for conservation of the vulture, Forest Conservator (finance and administration) Mihir Kumar told Dhaka Tribune: "Dangerous drugs including diclofenac have been banned, a Vulture Safe Zone has been established, and their habitats are being preserved."

At the same time, the Forest Department, and IUCN are jointly implementing a project to conserve the vulture, whose success has already been visible, he said adding: "A policy has been formulated to preserve the vulture.”

However, in response to a question whether these initiatives of forest department were appropriate for conservation of vultures, Mihir Kumar said: "Preservation of the vulture is not possible for the government alone. The government has declared 7,000 sq km area of Sundarbans, and Sylhet as safe havens for the vulture."

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