From time immemorial, vultures have been silently performing a very important task in the cycle of nature as its finest scavengers. They feed on the carcasses of dead animals, helping lessening the chance of carcass-borne disease outbreaks. But today, they have become one of most endangered bird species. Widespread use of a drug (diclofenac) to treat livestock has actually ended up poisoning the vultures. This has not only resulted in lesser sighting of this glorious bird in our skies, but has also endangered health and cleanliness in the countryside and caused unnatural changes in the natural food chain. Vultures are a critical link in the ecosystem and in their absence, population of other scavengers, such as feral dogs and rats is rising. This can increase the incidence of dangerous and potentially fatal diseases such as rabies.
This month, our cover story titled, 'Saving Vultures in India through Conservation Breeding Efforts' highlights that inspite of the risk to the conservation status of vultures, all is not lost as steps are being taken in the country to try and save these birds from extinction. A recently published research says that despite the low population of all of the three endangered vulture species, there is stability in the population of the white-rumped vulture that was previously on a rapid decline; this may have reversed due to the ban on veterinary use of diclofenac in India since 2006. Initiatives by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) such as the creation of the vulture safe zones (VSZs) in many states in India have led to stabilization of vulture population in designated VSZs in Gujarat and Jharkhand and increase in vulture population in the safe zones in Uttarakhand in recent years.
Our cover story also discusses that the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre was started by the BNHS in Haryana that undertakes research on vultures, their habitat, the causes of their declining numbers, and evolves the approach to protect them. It was converted into a breeding-conservation centre in 2004 which focusses mainly on the three species of vultures, the white-backed, long-billed, and slender-billed, which are facing the danger of extinction. The work they do is crucial for this bird's survival.
As the theme for World Water Day 2018 (March 22) is 'Nature for Water'— exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century, the feature article this month highlights the disturbing scenario of water scarcity in India as rapid urbanization and industrialization are expected to take a toll on the water availability in India in the future. It also discusses some noteworthy initiatives by the government and corporate companies related to nature-based solutions to water conservation in India.