Vulture culture atop coconut palms sends bird numbers soaring

Conservation Centre At Raigad Gets Encouraging Results In Three Years

A flock of vultures swoops down on a quiet open plot, flapping their wings with gay abandon while another flock takes sudden flight and the birds park themselves on swaying coconut palms in the picturesque coastal town of Shrivardhan in Raigad .

Article by Vijay Singh | Times of India

Amid this calm and serenity, a change is brewing–the number of vultures, which was on the downslide, is steadily rising at this conservation center located about 200km south of Mumbai.

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Started in 2012 with the purpose of increasing vulture population, the conservation center has seen the number of the white-backed and long-billed species go up over the last three years, say forest officials from Roha taluka. Currently , about 110 of the birds at this conservation centre fly in and out of nearly 30 nests perched atop palm trees, according to an estimate by forest officials.

“A few NGOs and bird experts are also helping us in this drive to increase vulture numbers at Shrivardhan. So far, we are satisfied as the results are good,“ said Deepak Sawant, assistant conservator of forests (Roha range).

At present, Shrivardhan has the highest number of white-backed vulture nests very close to human habitation, says deputy conservator of forests Vijay Suryawanshi. “That is why we have also started vulture eco-tourism here to boost the drive.“

Another vulture eco-tou rism site has been initiated at Mhasala range along the Konkan belt.

Environmentalist Bhau Katdare of Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra group, which is assisting the forest department in its endeavour, said: “The fact that vultures lay just one egg a year, a lot of care has to be taken to ensure that there are successful hatchings in every nest on these coconut trees. That is why , the local villagers are being paid a compensation of about Rs 500 per person so that they do not climb up the trees to pick coconuts as that can dis turb the birds.“ Katdare said that the success of the vulture conservation center at Shrivardhan can be gauged by the fact that recently an entire colony of vultures has shifted from its base in Ratnagiri to Shrivardhan due to adequate food available here.

In January this year, the nature group along with the forest department hosted `Jatayu Festival’ at Shrivardhan to rope in local people, the municipality, schools and hotel owners to raise awareness about the importance of vultures in our biodiversity . The festival takes its name from the Jatayu bird from the Ramayana. The bird, which tried to stop Ravana from abducting goddess Sita, was a vulture species.

Experts at Bombay Natural History Society said there was a 99% drop in vulture numbers in India for almost 20 years, setting off alarm bells ringing ornithologists across the world.