Wildlife & Biodiversity

Around 100 vultures die due to ‘unintentional’ poisoning in Kamrup

Residents wanted to kill stray dogs for which they sprayed pesticide on animal carcasses; but it led to the deaths of vultures and a steppe eagle 

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Saturday 19 March 2022
BNHS staff cremating dead Himalayan Griffon vultures that died due to poisoning in Assam. Photo: Prasanna

Locals found the dead bodies of more than 95 Himalayan griffon vultures and a steppe eagle in the Chaiygaon area of Milanpur village in Assam’s Kamrup district March 17, 2022.

“Around a hundred Himalayan vultures have died all of a sudden,” Prasanna, a local conservationist in Milanpur village told Down to Earth March 18.

“We were intimated by the residents of the village and arrived on the spot with forest department officials and scientists from Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) only to find that 97 vultures and a steppe eagle had died. We were able to rescue 10 vultures and a steppe eagle. They are currently undergoing treatment at the BNHS centre,” he added.

Sachin Ranade, senior centre manager at the Vulture Breeding Centre in Rani city of Kamrup district told DTE on the morning of March 19 that the cause of death of the vultures according to the postmortem report was found to be poisoning.

“This is a case of pesticide poisoning due to carbofuran. Sometimes, feral dogs chase cattle and injure them, because of which farmers have to incur losses. They spray the carcasses of cattle with pesticide to kill the dogs. Here, we found two carcasses — one of a goat and one of a dog — that had been sprayed with the pesticide,” he said.

Ranade added: “This was a case of unintentional poisoning of vultures when they ate the two poisoned carcasses.”

“We managed to rescue 11 birds, but it is still too early to say anything. One vulture died after being rescued, bringing up the toll to 98. Only when the condition of others stabilises will we be able to comment on the situation. We are trying our best,” Ranade said.

“Locals have been sensitised time and again but the stray dogs create a menace for them and out of frustration, they spray the animal carcasses with different kinds of poisons to kill the dogs, but indirectly they kill vultures too,” Prasanna said.

The vulture carcasses were cremated by the BNHS staff to prevent the poison from getting into the food chain.

“In case of mass deaths by poisoning, we cannot bury the dead bodies as the poison will seep into the earth and kill other insects that feed on the dead bodies. We have cremated the dead birds and are hoping that others respond positively to the treatment,” he added.

The Himalayan griffon is listed as ‘near threatened’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red list. The non-profit Bird life International states that the global population of the vulture has declined sharply over the years.

There are around 1,500 to 2,000 vultures in Assam, according to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The Himalayan griffon is listed as a migratory species among these.

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

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