Explained | Saving the vultures of Tamil Nadu

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained | Saving the vultures of Tamil Nadupublished in The Hindu on 21st October 2022.

What is the News?

The Tamil Nadu government has formed a committee to set up an institutional framework for the effective conservation of vultures.

It has also banned the use of diclofenac, a drug, to treat cattle while there are strict restrictions on the sale of other NSAIDs in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts. 

Which Vultures are found in Tamil Nadu?

Tamil Nadu boasts the largest population of vultures south of the Vindhya Mountain Range.

It is home to four species of vultures — the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vultures (Gyps indicus), the Asian king-vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, parts of the Nilgiris forest division and the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve are crucial strongholds for the vultures in southern India. 

Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts are believed to form one of the largest contiguous expanses where vultures are spotted. 

Are vulture populations in Tamil Nadu decreasing?

The population of the vultures in the Nilgiris, Erode and Coimbatore districts have remained largely stable.

But the experts state that the numbers are still extremely low and that even a single poisoning event could lead to several of the species going locally extinct.

For instance, the use of some Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to treat cattle, such as diclofenac, nimesulide, and ketoprofen among others has led to the crash in vulture populations across India.

What role do vultures play in the local ecosystem?

As scavengers, vultures help prevent the spread of many diseases and can remove toxins from entering the environment by consuming carcasses of dead cattle/wildlife before they decompose. Unfortunately, their tolerance for harmful substances does not extend to man-made drugs.

What are the challenges faced by Vultures in Tamil Nadu?

Firstly, temple tourism in the Sigur plateau is centred primarily around vulture habitats, such as Siriyur, Anaikatty and Bokkapuram. Over the last few years, there have been recorded instances of vultures abandoning nesting sites located too close to temples inside these reserves.

Secondly, the spread of invasive weeds such as the Lantana camara in vulture landscapes, which hinders the birds from scavenging as their large wing spans require plenty of open areas to safely land and to take to the skies in case of any major threats.

Finally, due to the illegal tapping of water along the streams running through these areas, possible climate change, and forest fires, the Terminalia arjuna trees, which many vultures use as nesting sites, are disappearing. 

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