With only around 260 White-rumped vultures left in Bangladesh, surveys reveal that the large birds are almost extinct in the country.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Bangladesh Forest Department conducted the surveys in 2014.
Nearly 60% of White-rumped vultures were extinct in four years, while the population was 1,972 in 2008 and 816 in 2012.
The population of the birds had declined due to threats associated mainly with man-made causes, said officials of the Forest Department.
“The number of vultures has drastically declined in Bangladesh, where there used to be hundreds of thousands of the birds just a few decades ago,” Secretary to the Environment and Forest Ministry Istiaque Ahmed said.
He was addressing the seventh Regional Steering Committee (RSC) Meeting for the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme at the Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon in Dhaka on Thursday, chaired by the ministry’s Additional Secretary Amit Kumar Baul and co-chaired by IUCN Head of Natural Resource Group Scott Perkin.
Dr Rhys Green, a professor of conservation science in the United Kingdom, presented a paper titled “Diagnosing the reasons and solutions to Asian Vulture decline,” and Dr Juergen Daemmgen, a professor of pharmacology in Germany, presented another paper titled “Why are anti-inflammatory drugs toxic to vultures?”
Mohammed Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, chief conservator of forests at the Forest Department, also addressed the session attended by representatives from India and Nepal, RSC members, scientists, wildlife biologists and conservationists.
Speaking as the chief guest of the inaugural session, Istiaque said: “We know that the primary cause of the ecological disaster is the use of veterinary painkillers in cattle. When a cow dies and is consumed by vultures, the vultures die as well.
“The government, however, has shown an incredible commitment to saving the remaining vultures. It has already banned the use of two of the most powerful drugs – Diclofenac in 2010 and Ketoprofin in 2017.”
In Asia, over 99% of the vulture population has disappeared, and the major cause of the decline in the species’ numbers is poisoning, particularly from Diclofenac, followed by lack of food, nesting trees and disturbance by people.
According to a book titled “Vultures and Vulture Safe Zones of Bangladesh,” which was unveiled at the programme, the threats facing vultures in Asia include unintentional poisoning through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and poisonous bait, electrocution in energy infrastructures, collision with energy infrastructures, scarcity of food, degradation of habitat, human disturbance, and direct persecution.
Speaking as the special guest, Shafiul discussed the significance of vultures to the environment and underscored the need for collective efforts for creating a secure environment for vultures.
“As we know, vultures are spread over a wide geographical area. So, regional and transboundary efforts are needed, along with national efforts, for the conservation of the critically endangered species,” he said.
Shafiul hailed the RSC, which has relentlessly been working to provide a safe environment for vultures and protect the ecosystem.
Jahidul Kabir, conservator of forests (wildlife and nature conservation circle) at the Forest Department, said: “The Forest Department is highly dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity. We have already taken different initiatives, such as Vulture Conservation Teams, Community-based Vulture Feeding Stations, Vulture Rescue Centres, and the Bangladesh Vulture Conservation Action Plan.
“We have designated some spots as safe zones for vultures and successfully implemented a vulture conservation project, while another project is likely to be approved soon. We are also mulling the introduction of a vulture conservation and breeding programme.”
Vultures are among the most threatened bird species on the planet, having experienced a catastrophic population decline since 1990s. The IUCN is working across national borders to ensure the long term survival of vultures through the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme.