Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 12:19 UK

Indian vulture births are hailed

Slender billed vulture
It is estimated that there are now only about 1,000 slender billed vultures left

Conservationists say they are delighted at the news that one of the world's most endangered birds has twice been successfully bred in India.

Two slender billed vultures, which experts say are rarer and more endangered than the tiger, are being reared in Haryana and West Bengal.

Officials say that the chicks were born separately are both in good health.

It is believed the vultures' catastrophic decline has been driven by veterinary medicines.

A decade ago, vultures could be counted in their millions in the wild in India.

But now experts estimate there are only around a 1,000 slender-billed vultures left, with similar declines in other species.

They say it is a a population catastrophe exacerbated by medicine.

A veterinary drug called Diclofenac is fatal to the vultures that feed off the livestock carcasses.

Although it has been banned since 2006, experts say it is still in use.

The BBC's environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee says that the dramatic decline of vultures has had several effects including an increase in rabies-carrying feral dogs that feed on the carrion the vultures once ate.

The Parsi community in Mumbai (Bombay), who leave their dead to be consumed by vultures, have had to find alternative methods following the dramatic decline of the birds.

The Birdlife International campaigning group says that while the captive births are good news, urgent action is still needed to save vultures from extinction in the wild.

"With extinction in the wild likely in the next 10 years, we do not have a moment to waste. The more vultures that we can bring into captivity means a better chance of survival for these rapidly-declining species," Birdlife International spokesman Chris Bowden said.

"Birds can only be saved from extinction through banning the retail sale of Diclofenac, promotion of the safe alternative, Meloxicam, and the capture of more birds for the breeding programme."

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