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Friday, 20 December, 2002, 18:54 GMT
New Indian campaign to save vultures
Vultures on carcase   Vibhu Prakash/Vulture Declines
The sight of scavenging vultures is becoming an unusual one (Image by Vibhu Prakash)

Environmental activists in India's western Rajasthan state are mounting a new campaign to save the fast declining population of vultures.

The campaign sponsored by a clutch of non-government organisations in the state, is due to take off next Wednesday.

Three sites located near Multan and Lahore, had witnessed a 60% decline in population in last two years

Dr Munir Virani
Bird lovers and conservationists from across South Asia said at a meeting in Jaipur that the new drive was aimed at discovering why so many vultures were dying.

Experts taking part in the meeting projected a gloomy picture.

Kenya-based biologist, Dr Munir Virani, who has been working in Pakistan's Punjab province for the last two years, told the BBC he had counted as many as 1,200 dead vultures at three sites.

Causes

"These three sites located near Multan and Lahore, had witnessed a 60% decline in population in last two years," he said.

Dr Virani who also visited various sites in Nepal and India said the rapid decline in vultures population which originated in South-east Asia has now virtually engulfed South Asia.

Vulture with drooping head   Vibhu Prakash/Vulture Declines
A drooping head indicates illness
(Image by Vibhu Prakash)
If the trend continues, it may soon spread to species in Africa - where they play a crucial in protecting the forests.

Experts say the infection, seems to be spreading fast because of constant migration of vultures across continents - from South-East Asia, through South Asia to Africa, and back.

Martin Gilbert of the US-based Peregrine Fund said:"We have collected samples of fresh tissue from recently dead vultures and samples have been sent to laboratories all over the world".

"We hope its result may throw some light on the possible cause of mortality," he said.

Campaign

Even though vultures appeared to be dying in most parts of the region, the western desert region of Rajasthan offered a protected site.

According to Professor Anil Changani, the desert ecology provided more suitable habitat for the vultures, where they were spotted in large numbers in and around Jodhpur.

Two vultures in tree   Guy Shorrock/Vulture Declines
Vultures are still thriving in the desert region
(Image by Guy Shorrock)
But he warned mining operations and newly developing townships springing up in the region, were posing a threat to vultures.

"Habitat loss, especially due to the felling of trees on which the birds nest, also disturbs the birds", he said.

Conservationists say the new campaign is expected to raise public awareness about the importance of saving the vultures population.

"They are the natural scavengers, they clean up our countryside, people should know they need them" a delegate said at Friday's meeting.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr. David Gibbons, RSPB
"We may have an infectious disease on our hands"
See also:

01 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
28 Jan 00 | South Asia
18 Jul 01 | South Asia
30 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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