Mumbai’s vulture breeding programme has fizzled out: BNHS

After managing to have a successful programme elsewhere in India, BNHS’s Dr Vibhu Prakash, head of the BNHS Vulture Conservation Breeding Programme spoke to dna’s Tanea Bandopadhyay on the status of the programme in Mumbai. The director said it will be some time before the birds, known for their voracious meat-eating appetite, are seen circling in the skies here.

Article by Tanea Bandyopadhyay | DNA

When was the vulture breeding programme in Mumbai started and who initiated it? Was it a joint initiative?
Having seen the success we had with captive breeding of this highly endangered species at some of our breeding centres (particularly Pinjore, Haryana), we were approached by certain trustees of BPP to put together a proposal for establishing a breeding centre within Doongerwadi in Malabar Hill area. Due to lack of adequate space and facilities, we suggested that this could only be done if we had a main breeding centre on the outskirts of the city and a smaller satellite centre within the Doongerwadi complex. Accordingly, a proposal was made in early 2013 for extension of our ongoing breeding programme to the state of Maharashtra, where so far we do not have a breeding site.

Our vulture breeding programme in India was started in 2004; we run four breeding centres, the Central Zoo Authority runs four and one is jointly run by both organisations together.

After some preliminary discussions with BPP on our first proposal, the trustees felt that it may not be possible for them to commit significant resources and enter into a long-term arrangement with us without a clear assurance of success over an extended period of time. Accordingly, they asked for a second proposal for a two-year pilot project, which was submitted to them a few months later. However, after preliminary discussions on the second proposal, we again understood that BPP was unable to come to a conclusion internally on the subject. It also wanted a prior assurance that the main breeding centre would be established first on the outskirts of Mumbai before the pilot started at Doongerwadi. This would require assured government funding for 15 years, which was not readily available at the time. Hence, the project fizzled out.

When was the programme called off and why?
The project was never cancelled as mentioned earlier. No decision was taken. During discussions, however, on the pilot project the risk of failure because of the widespread use of diclofenac (the drug responsible for vulture deaths) and perhaps other such lethal drugs for the birds, became a major deterrent for some of the trustees.

What would’ve been the benefits to the Parsi community from this programme?
This is a question best answered by the BPP. We are a conservation organisation and our interest is conservation of a highly endangered species.

What would be the benefits to BNHS/Mumbai?
At the time of our discussion, we were still in Phase I of our breeding programme and were prepared to set up one more breeding centre in Maharashtra. Today, a couple of years on, we have already entered Phase II of our project and our attention has turned to the creation of vulture-safe zones; we are now actively planning for the release of the birds bred in captivity. We have also seen some success in our efforts at advocacy and slightly fewer vulture deaths from diclofenac after the government banned its use in veterinary practice.

Did they try to revive the programme?
Not to the best of our knowledge. We have not been approached again since 2013.

Would the BNHS be open to a renegotiation with the BPP?
I don’t think ‘renegotiation’ is an appropriate word as we never got to the stage of discussing terms. We do not have any plans at this point to add more breeding sites; even if BPP’s proposal is revived, it may now not fit in with the direction and objectives of our own programme.