Mudumalai Tiger Reserve plans a centre to protect vultures

After its resounding success in tiger conservation, the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) plans a centre to protect and bolster the last remaining populations of critically endangered species of vultures in south India.According to officials, a proposal to establish a vulture rescue, rehabilitation and breeding center in the Sigur plateau, in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve, is on the cards. If established, the center will be the first of its kind in south India.B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor at the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology at the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam, said the primary necessity for the centre would be to establish the facilities required to treat vultures in distress. “Over the last decade, we have lost maybe 15-20 vultures as we did not possess the required facilities or the expertise to intervene when we came across vultures in distress,” he said. “It is such a painful sight to see a vulture in distress, maybe due to poisoning or some other injury, and being unable to intervene effectively and save it. As there are so few vultures left in Southern India, conserving each one gains even more importance,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan, who has been studying the population and nesting habits of vultures in the landscape for the last few years. It is hoped that the survival rate of vulture fledglings could also be improved once the centre is established. “In some cases, we have recorded fledglings falling out of their nests. Even though this is natural, a rescue and rehabilitation center could have a dedicated aviary where these fledglings can be nursed back to health and released into the wild, further bolstering the existing population,” he said. The Sigur plateau is one of the last remaining bastions for three species of critically endangered vultures in Southern India – the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), the red-headed or asian king vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and the long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus). Moreover, other species of vulture, including the Egyptian vulture, Cinereous vulture and the Himalayan griffon vulture have also been recorded visiting the landscape occasionally.Deputy Director of MTR (buffer zone), L.C.S. Srikanth, said the nesting patterns of the vultures in the Sigur plateau is extremely healthy, with another successful breeding season completed earlier this year. “There is also a plan to have a breeding centre in the reserve, so that we can further bolster the population of vultures in the region,” he said.“However, before we go in for a dedicated breeding programme, studies will have to be conducted to ascertain the carrying capacity of the landscape for the vulture population, and whether the region can support a much higher density of the birds,” he said.MTR field director K.K.Kaushal is enthusiastic about the plan to have a dedicated facility to strengthen vulture conservation. “Establishing a facility here will definitely go some way in ensuring the continued survival of the vultures in Southern India. The MTR is one of the last strongholds in this region for most of the vultures in the region. So such a facility will help bolster their population which is dwindling across the country,” said Mr. Kaushal.

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