Communities are being engaged in the conservation of the dwindling species of vultures
Vultures, termed natural cleansers, have become nearly extinct with nearly 50% of all vulture species either wiped out or on the verge of extinction. The White-rumped Vulture, locally known as Raj shokun, declined over 99% in just two decades with only 260 currently in existence. However, many initiatives, such as banning harmful drugs and rigorous conservation initiatives, have led to a natural breeding of vultures, leading to an increase in their number from 44% to 57% in five years.
A webinar on the occasion of International Vulture Awareness Day on Friday illustrated the current situation of vulture conservation in Bangladesh.
In the last decade, many initiatives have been taken to conserve vultures, such as banning diclofenac, establishing Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ), formulating the Bangladesh Vulture Conservation Action Plan, etc. One recent achievement in the sector has been the ban on veterinary use of another harmful drug, Ketoprofen, in the country since February 8.
Moreover, large pharmaceutical companies like Renata and Acme are not only manufacturing but also promoting the use of Maloxicam, a safer alternative drug. There are currently 13 other companies producing the drug as well.
In 2013, a vulture conservation committee was formed and through community-based Vulture Conservation Teams (VCTs) the local communities are being engaged in the process of conservation.
The VCTs rescue sick and injured vultures with the help of the Bangladesh Forest Department. From 2016 to 2021, around 114 vultures were rescued, rehabilitated and released from the rescue centre.
Bangladesh is the only country in the world which has two vulture safe zones approved by the government, one in Khulna and another in Sylhet.
In the last five years, Bangladesh has seen a 13 percentage point increase in vulture numbers, entirely due to natural breeding.
Although neighbouring India has already initiated vulture breeding in captivity, Bangladesh is completely reliant on natural breeding.
Bangladesh Forest Department Chief Conservator of Forests Amir Hussain Chowdhury says vultures are slow breeders.
He says that banning veterinary use of harmful drugs like diclofenac and ketoprofen and local pharmaceutical companies’ increased production of Maloxicam, are definitely playing an important role in vulture conservation.
"However, nothing can be sustainable without securing safe food and roosting and nesting places for them," he said.
On the illegal cutting down of tall trees, mostly fan palms, which are known as roosting-nesting places for vultures, he talked about the forest department’s plantation program to plant fan palm trees across the country to expand habitat resources relating to vultures.
"Moreover, we are planning to add a clause to the national forest policy, to the effect that if anyone wants to cut down any mother tree, he or she would need permission from the government or local authority. This is to bring back the old glory of biodiversity," he said.
Prokiti o Jibon President Muqeed Majumder Babu says that while breeding in captivity is an option, the process is too expensive for Bangladesh.
“The process of breeding through captivity requires multiple steps for the final successful output, " he says.
Meanwhile, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) country representative Raquibul Amin says natural breeding is always better.
"We should focus on how we can utilise the two vulture safe zones to increase breeding naturally by taking care of them properly," he said.
Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin says that the more people are aware about conservation, the more they will contribute to the impact.
He added that scrutiny needed to be intensified so that banned drugs could not penetrate the market by any means and price and availability of safe alternative drugs like Maloxicam were ensured.
On policies and well-built working structures to conserve wildlife and biodiversity, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Additional Secretary Iqbal Abdullah Harun expressed concern about the return of drugs like diclofenac and ketoprofen in the market.
According to Bangladesh Biodiversity Conservation Federation (BBCF) President SM Iqbal, around 10,000 volunteers are involved in vulture conservation. He believes that to execute the work efficiently, recognition and budget are crucial.
Deputy Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Habibun Nahar believes volunteers in the sector should be recognised properly for their contribution.
Experts also highlighted the importance of conducting more research on ensuring food and shelter for vultures and incorporating environmental and animal studies more rigorously into mainstream education.