A motley crowd of Parsis and nature-lovers listened with rapt attention as Dr RD Jakati, Chief Wildlife Warden of Haryana, spoke at length on his pet subject, vulture conservation. The topic, of course, was close to the heart of the city’s Parsi community.
The “garbage man” of the skies has not been sighted in Mumbai for almost a decade now.
“That’s because more than 99 per cent of the vultures in the country have vanished. They are dying at the rate of 30 to 50 per cent annually. Functionally, they are extinct,” said Dr Jakati, before delving into the efforts of the Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC) at Pinjore, Haryana, a joint venture of the Bombay Natural History Society and the Haryana Forest Department to save the three species of vultures – the white-backed, long-billed and the slender-billed, from extinction.
Research at VCBC, which was started solely for the purpose of investigating the dramatic decline in vulture population in September 2001 revealed that diclofenac, a drug prescribed as a painkiller for cattle, was the prime cause for the crisis. Last week, drug controller general of India Ashwini Kumar ordered a ban on diclofenac.
Khojeste Mistree, religious scholar and co-founder of Zorashtrian Studies, the first person to seek permission to build an aviary for vultures in Mumbai almost five years ago, is thrilled with the move.
“It is a very encouraging sign. Now that the VCBC has met with success and the ban on diclofenac has come into effect, it might be time to give the aviary a chance,” he said.
Mumbai’s sole functional ‘Tower of Silence’ or ‘dakhma’ is at Kemp’s Corner, Malabar Hill.
In the absence of vultures, the Bombay Parsi Panchayat trustees have installed solar concentrators (reflective mirrors which magnify the heat from the sun) inside the Tower of Silence.
“But it is theologically wrong, as they are actually burning the body. The heat generated is over 125 degrees Centigrade, and leaves the body charred,” said Mistree.
Besides, the solar concentrators don’t function during monsoon, he added. The aviary, on the other hand, would cost around Rs 4crore.
“Not a great amount for a community as wealthy as ours,” said Mistree.”Around 60 birds would be adequate to do the needful, given the fact that there are three Parsi deaths every day in Mumbai,” added Mistree.
There are about 45,000 Parsis, Iranis and Zoroastrians in Mumbai as per the 2001 Census.
Kety Gunderia, a Parsi woman said, “We will now approach our community members to ask them to do their bit towards conserving vultures. After all, the birds are crucial to the Parsis who want to keep up tradition.”
Original article here