GUWAHATI, April 10 - Shocking as it is, close to five hundred vultures have died due to poisoning in Assam in little more than four years. Conservationists believe that given the spurt in unnatural deaths, vultures, which witnessed the fastest ever decline of any known species in recent times, are doomed to suffer extinction very soon.
In the last such instance, 10 vultures died after eating the poisoned carcass of a cow at Chhaygaon in Kamrup district in March. While eight dead vultures were recovered from the site, two of the 11 struggling birds shifted to the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC), Rani, died later.
With this, the toll this year has gone up to 40, the earlier poisoning cases this year also occurring in Kamrup district.
�Cases of acute poisoning have claimed nearly 500 vultures in a span of just over four years since 2013. This is an extremely disturbing trend and unless checked, it will spell doom for the beleaguered vulture,� an official of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which jointly runs the VCBC with the Forest Department, told The Assam Tribune.
The break-up of vulture poisoning in the last four years is � 40 in 2013 (one incident each in Sivasagar, Dhubri and Lakhimpur), 90 in 2014 (Dhubri-1, BTC-2, Bongaigaon-1, Sivasagar-2, Nalbari-1, Jorhat-1 and Tinsukia-1), 210 in 2015 (Sivasagar-2, Tinsukia-2, Lakhimpur-1, Kamrup-2), and 105 in 2016 (Nalbari-3, Kamrup-3, Darrang-1 and Barpeta-1).
People sometimes poison animal carcasses to get rid of dogs that occasionally target and kill livestock, especially calves. The practice has emerged as the biggest threat to vultures in Assam in recent times.
The BNHS official said that as part of its efforts to ensure long-term conservation of vultures, several initiatives including the launching of the Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) had been taken.
�We have been working in the areas witnessing large-scale vulture fatalities and sensitising the people not to poison animal carcasses or to damage the roosting trees of vultures. As for VSZ, the idea is to make a particular geographical area (of at least 100 km radius) that shelters vultures free of the presence of the drug diclofenac in animal carcasses, the major food of vultures. Assam too has been chosen as one of the VSZ sites,� he said.
He added that BNHS in-situ conservation efforts had led to stabilisation of vulture populations in designated VSZs in Gujarat and Jharkhand and increase in vulture population in the VSZ in Uttarakhand in recent years.
According to an estimate, in Assam, the Himalayan griffon (a winter migratory species), and the white-backed and the slender-billed (both resident species), have declined by 97.99 per cent during the last 15 years. In fact, over 99 per cent of the population of the two resident species has already been lost in recent times.