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Milestone release of vultures in Nepal

3CONSERVATIONISTS HAVE CELEBRATED the success of the first-ever release of captive-reared vultures in South Asia.

Last month, government officials and a group of representatives from national and international conservation organisations released six Critically Endangered white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) at a Vulture Safe Zone in the lowland Terai of Nepal.

For years, Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) and the RSPB have been working as part of the SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), to rid Nepal of the painkiller diclofenac. The drug is fatal to vultures that feed on livestock carcasses containing it. Now, the area is considered safe enough to release captive-reared individuals in the hope of giving the wild population a much-needed boost.

Toby Galligan, senior conservation scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science (CfCS), said: “It is time to assess whether the provisional Vulture Safe Zone has become a true Vulture Safe Zone, but only the vultures can show us that. We are using satellite telemetry to track white-rumped vultures remotely and in the field. If any die we can recover them, examine them for cause of death and prevent other vultures dying from that cause.”

The vultures were raised in Nepal’s Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre in Chitwan National Park and fitted with solar-powered satellite transmitters. They were kept in a pre-release aviary for eight months before being “gently” released into the wild. This enabled them to acclimatise to their new surroundings and socialise through the wire with wild vultures that are fed in the area.

In addition to the captive releases, BCN and the RSPB CfCS recently fitted satellite transmitters to 11 wild white-rumped vultures, which have been monitored breeding at several sites and foraging up to 100km (62 miles) from where they were caught. 

Dr Juliet Vickery, head of international research, RSPB CfCS, said: “Tagging and releasing five wild-caught birds will also allow scientists to check that the captive birds behave normally once released, providing a vital part of the picture before further releases are possible.”

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