Himalayan griffon and steppe eagle: Vulture holocaust in Assam: Around 100 birds die due to ‘unintentional’ poisoning in Kamrup

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Recently, locals found the dead bodies of more than 95 Himalayan griffon vultures and a steppe eagle in Assam. The cause of death of the vultures according to the postmortem report was found to be pesticide poisoning.

Note: Farmers spray the carcasses of cattle with pesticides (carbofuran) to kill the dogs.

About Himalayan griffon vultures
Himalayan vultures
Source: eBird

The Himalayan Griffon Vulture is an Old World vulture in the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks. It is closely related to the European Griffon Vulture, G. fulvus.

Note: Old World vultures are vultures that are found in the Old World, i.e. the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Scientific Name: Gyps himalayensis

Conservation Status:

IUCN Red List: ‘Near Threatened’

Distribution: It lives mainly in the higher regions of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of above 1500 metres.

This species is distributed from western China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is also found in the Central Asian mountains (from Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in the west to western China and Mongolia in the east).

Characteristics: This vulture is a typical vulture, with a bald white head, very broad wings, and short tail feathers. It has a white neck ruff and yellow bill, and the whitish body and wing coverts contrast with the dark flight feathers.

They have usually seen singly or in small groups but they gather in large flock at a carcass.

Threats: The most serious potential threat to this species is thought to be mortality caused through ingestion of diclofenac and other vulture-toxic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) widely used in livestock, particularly in South Asia.

About the steppe eagle
steppe eagle
Source: The Hindu

The steppe eagle is also a migratory bird that comes to Assam during winters from different countries, including African ones.

Conservation status:

IUCN Red List: Endangered

Note: Earlier steppe eagle was listed as ‘Least Concern’ in IUCN Redlist.

Distribution: It breeds in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia during winter.

Characteristics: They feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. Immature birds have been noticed taking carcasses of these.

Significance: It is the second-largest migratory eagle species coming to India.

Threats: Habitat loss/degradation, electrocution on/ collision with energy infrastructure, poisoning through herbicides/ pesticides/ veterinary drugs in food sources, etc.

Source: This post is based on the article “Vulture holocaust in Assam: Around 100 birds die due to ‘unintentional’ poisoning in Kamrup” published in Down To Earth on 19th March 2021.

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