Eight captive-reared critically endangered white-backed vultures are set to take wings early next year for the first time in India since the vulture conservation centre near Pinjore was set up in September 2001.
The Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre on the edge of the Bir Shikargaha Wildlife Sanctuary is a joint project of Haryana and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) with the British government's Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species Fund to investigate the massive decline of three critically endangered Gyps species of vultures in India.
Six captive-bred vultures and two rescued from the wild will be tagged with a 30-gram device for satellite telemetry each with a battery backup of three-four years and this will help understanding their behaviour and survival instincts in the wild, BNHS Principal Scientist Vibha Prakash told IANS here.
He said the vultures would be released by March-April next year in the Bir Shikargaha sanctuary where the BNHS is working to declare it as a vulture-safe zone, which extends transboundary into Himachal Pradesh.
"If any of the released vulture die or get injured, we can recover them. Satellite telemetry will help us to know the cause of death and prevent other vultures dying from that cause."
The satellite tags will also be useful in discovering whether the captive-bred birds behave normally in the wild with other closely-related species.
In the first event of its kind in South Asia, the government of Nepal and national and international conservation organisations released critically endangered white-backed vultures in the wild in 2017.
India is home to nine species of vultures. Three of these species, the white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures, underwent catastrophic population decline of greater than 90 per cent in the mid-1990s. The birds are now listed as critically endangered.
The vulture, a nature's scavenger, cleans the environment of animal carcasses. Villagers rely on them to dispose of cattle carcasses.
Vultures that consume the carcass of animals treated with diclofenac die with symptoms of kidney failure. The Indian government banned its veterinary use in 2006.
BNHS scientist Prakash said "if there is no toxicity-related death of these eight birds in two years, then we will go for release of 20-25 birds each year".
"We are planning to introduce 100 pairs each of the three species of white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed in the wild in the next 10 years. Before that, findings from the first proposed release batch will be crucial in the future programmes."
The long-billed and slender-billed vultures will be released in Madhya Pradesh and Assam, respectively.
Officials admit the flight to freedom of these endangered vultures is still caught in red-tapism in the Haryana Forest Department, which has been authorised to procure 10 platform terminal transmitters or satellite telemetries through global bidding.
"These birds have been shifted to the pre-release aviary for over a year and a half. Twice their release was postponed last year. The only hurdle is the procurement of satellite telemetries and that too is bogged down by bureaucratic delays," an official, requesting anonymity, told IANS.
"The birds are now two to four years old and this is the best age group for their release. The delay in their release will definitely delay the vulture reintroduction programme," he added.