Study that tracked 25 vultures highlights their habitat threat


BHOPAL/SAGAR: A joint telemetry project conducted by the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) and Wild Institute of India (WII) on 25 vultures has found that Indian and red-headed vultures stayed in the Greater Panna landscape in areas that will find themselves submerged under the proposed Ken Betwa river linking project.

The vultures in the study, each of which were tagged with solar-powered GPS devices over the past two years included 13 Indian vultures including two critically endangered red-headed vultures, 8 Himalayan griffons and two Eurasian Griffons.

“While Himalayan Griffons and Eurasian Griffons travelled to different parts including Pakistan and China, the Indian vultures, especially the red-headed vultures have caused us concern as they mostly stayed in the Greater Panna landscape, a part of which is going to be submerged in Ken-Betwa Link Project,” said a scientist associated with the study.

According to the proposed river linking project, 57.21 square kilometres of the Panna Tiger reserve is set to be submerged.

Admitting that the loss of habitat was a possibility, PTR field director UK Sharma, however, said, “The red-headed vulture lives on trees and moved very little. But it may also be true that the birds adopt new habitats and thus, after submergence, they will choose other areas as their habitat.”

Sharma said the results of the telemetry project began emerging in the first week of April.

“The Himalayan Griffons started their journey in the last month of March from the Panna Tiger Reserve. On April 27, we found that four vultures travelled around 2,250 km distance to reach the Tibetan region of China, Uyghur regions of China and the Karakoram range in Nepal. Later in 12 days, they travelled around 1,700 km to enter Kazakhstan. Their entire journey reveals that they follow green landscape which is close to water bodies and travelled around 100 km a day.”

The Eurasian Griffons started their journey from Panna Tiger Reserve in the first week of April and they moved towards the west. “We received their location in Pakistan almost 20 days after they started their journey. One vulture was found to be in the Lal Suhanra National Park of Bhawalpur in the third week of April. It returned within two weeks. It then went to Pakistan again in the second week of May. The other vulture was found in the Shorkot Plantation Reserve near the Multan district of Pakistan,” Sharma said.

While the red-headed vultures did not leave the Greater Panna landscape, the Indian vultures followed the green landscape to reach Bihar near Shone river, Kuno National Park and Amarkantak near the Narmada river.

WII scientist Ramesh Krishnamurthy said, “Technology helped us in tracing the location of the vultures. The GPS devices include 3D acceleration sensors and universal mobile telecommunication system (UMTS) and ultra-high resolution (UHR) antenna tracked through satellite transmission of data from the tags. An antenna transmits data or updates the configuration of the tag through mobile towers (GPRS/GSM based connection). Data was transmitted periodically to a global data repository- Movebank. Once the data is transmitted, the tag removes the stored data. The user keeps downloading the data from the Movebank account associated with the current study.”

Krishnamurthy added that one of the objectives of the study was to save vultures from extinction and small steps have already been made in this regard.

“Initially we found that Indian vultures are frequently moving to Pawai in Katni. When we traced where exactly they had gone, we found it was a cow shelter where vultures are going to feed on carcasses of dead cows. A forest team visited the area and asked locals not to use diclofenac medicine as it could be harmful to the vultures,” he said.

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