Mission: Conserve and breed a viable population of white-backed vultures in a safe and secure environment at a conservation breeding centre. The project also aims to continue to monitor wild populations, lobby for complete removal of diclofenac from the environment and to build capacity of the staff for eventual release of captive bred individuals.
Species: Himalayan griffon, white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vulture.
Support started: 2009
Donating: £1,000 towards the annual running costs to cover livestock for food supply, slaughtering and meat processing and fodder for the animals.
Background: There are eight species of vulture in Pakistan and, of these, four species are from the Gyps vulture group. These four species include the Himalayan griffon, white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture and slender-billed vulture. Three of these species are classed as critically endangered by the IUCN red list.
85% of vulture deaths have been attributed to visceral gout which leads to kidney failure. This gout is caused by a veterinary drug called diclofenac sodium which enters the vultures' bodies through feeding on carcasses injected with the drug. Diclofenac was banned from production and distribution in 2006, however the large stock piled supplies mean that the drug remains in circulation and still poses a threat to vultures.
Vultures play an incredibly important role in ecosystems, as they feed off of dead animals and even partially rotten meat, thus they control the spread of many diseases. The Gyps Vulture Restoration Project was launched in 2004 as a partnership between WWF-Pakistan and the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department in order to conserve and breed a viable population of white-backed vultures in a safe and secure environment at a conservation breeding centre.
The vulture conservation centre was established in Changa Manga Forest and phase one of the development to create a communal vulture aviary has been completed. This aviary is currently home to 11 birds, of which three have been confirmed as female. The plan is to house a larger core population of vultures and to obtain up to 20 additional vultures to augment the captive population. Once the environment is safe and diclofenac is eradicated, they will act as a source population for reintroductions or as a supplementation to wild populations.
Achievements: At the moment, the project has 3 main components. The first is to encourage the vultures at the facility at Changa Manga to breed. Artificial nests have been provided with lots of nesting material. A pair did build their own nest in 2010 and did lay an egg, however it did not hatch. Although not a successful first time it gives encouragement to this years breeding season. The second component is to catch more birds to add to the breeding colony. The vultures in the wild are still very much at risk from being poisoned from diclofenac, so any vultures that can be brought into captivity will be made safe from this threat. There are two catching teams – one near Lahore, the other in the far south east of Pakistan. Finally the last component is the educational outreach project with the local schools. This has been going very well and the children have been given talks, are encouraged to visit the facility and have been provided with activity books about vultures and colouring-in sheets.
Future objectives: Our funds will help the programme with its annual running costs to cover livestock for food supply, slaughtering and meat processing, two security guards' wages, fodder for animals, a supervisor's salary and a veterinary officer's salary.