BNHS says Bombay Parsi Punchayet’s plans to breed vultures at Towers of Silence will not work, as the birds will die from feeding on bodies of those who have consumed diclofenac.
In fact, a member of the BNHS – which was initially involved in the breeding programme – has asked the State Forest Department not to grant permission for the project.
The BNHS had first decided to disassociate from the project in June 2007, but following recent reports that the BPP will be going ahead with it, the organisation has clarified that it wants to have no part in it.
An issue that regularly stirs up debate among Parsi-Zoroastrians is the partial breakdown of Dokhmenashini – a funeral system that relies on the sun and carrion birds to dispose of dead bodies. Though there are unverified reports of vulture sightings around the towers, the last time the birds were found in significant numbers there was more than a decade ago.
At a recent community meeting, BPP chairman Khojestee Mistree announced plans to set up an aviary in an attempt to reintroduce the birds at the towers.
“We will source them from a breeding centre and stock them in an aviary built in one of the towers,” said Mistree, adding that they were not planning to breed birds there.
“After saying in their report that the project was workable, BNHS backed out under pressure from members of our community who do not want the Dokhmenashini system to continue. We are nevertheless working towards the project,” Mistree added. The BPP plans to get between 60 and 75 birds for the towers.
BPP faces stiff opposition to breeding programme
The nation-wide decline of vultures has been linked to diclofenac – a drug used in a variety of medicines including painkillers – that causes kidney failure in birds.
“After speaking to scientists, we realised that we cannot go ahead with captive breeding because humans take diclofenac in various forms. Birds bred at the towers would die after feeding on bodies there,” said BNHS member Rishad Naoroji, a former member of the organisation’s executive committee.
Naoroji, who has suggested that the community look for alternate methods to bolster the traditional funeral method, is one of many naturalists to fiercely oppose the project.
“There is no way they are going to get permission from any State Government to breed or stock the birds. As it is, there are few of them left. We cannot take risks with the endangered bird,” he said.
Naoroji, who has written a book on raptors, has asked the BPP not to go ahead with project. He has even written to the state Forest Department to refuse permission to the BPP for captive breeding.
BNHS director Asad Rahmani has told BPP that unless the community stops using the drug, birds kept at the towers will die. “We withdrew because the BPP could not fulfil the conditions that we had set, including stopping the use of diclofenac by the community.
We are surprised that the BPP trustees have been quoted in recent newspaper reports that we are still involved. We do not want to be involved in the issue. Let them solve their problem,” said Rahmani.