Why do we need a vulture breeding programme?

The unprecedented scale and speed of vulture population declines has left all three resident Gyps vulture species Critically Endangered. In order to ensure survival it was thought necessary to bring them into captivity for breeding. Removing diclofenac and other toxic NSAIDs from the environment will allow the eventual recovery of vulture populations but this process, in practice, may take many years so it is essential to protect vultures in an environment where they will not be exposed to the drug. Successful conservation breeding will enable vulture numbers to increase, eventually allowing for the release back into the wild once their food source in Asia is free of NSAIDs. The success of the Eurasian Griffon vulture conservation breeding and release programme in Europe and the programme that saved the Californian Condor from extinction demonstrate that this approach can work. Without vulture conservation breeding centres, it is a very real possibility that resident Gyps vultures could become extinct across South Asia.

Vulture breeding centres in India

Dr Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), heads up the vulture breeding programme in India and manages a large number of staff and complex range of activities varying from overseeing the construction of aviaries and facilities, to managing the feeding requirements and health of birds within the three centres. The involvement of BNHS in the capture and breeding of vultures in India continues to expand and the programme now holds over 600 vultures in captivity at three centres in the states of Haryana, West Bengal and Assam. With funding from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), India, the Indian Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has plans to establish a further five centres in India. The BNHS vulture conservation breeding programme is fully recognised by the CZA and Dr Vibhu Prakash is now advising the CZA on their breeding programmes. The World Association of Zoos and Aquarians (WAZA) has formally recognised the vulture conservation breeding programmes in India and Nepal. Crucial support and land for the breeding centres has come from state Forestry Departments within India. Governing councils have been formally established to oversee the running of the centres in India i.e. in Haryana, West Bengal and Assam.

Funding for the breeding programme in India was initially from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, with most support now coming from the RSPB and other donors. Technical support on the design of the conservation breeding programme, the management of birds and breeding at the centres is supplied by Jemima Parry-Jones from the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Gloucestershire. The important veterinary guidance is provided by Dr Nic Masters, Chief Veterinary Officer, Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Further technical support to the breeding programme activities and the capture of birds for the centres is provided by the RSPB and ZSL.

Vulture breeding centres in Nepal

In Nepal the centre designed on the same lines as India has been established through a partnership of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), with financial support and technical guidance provided by ZSL, ICBP and RSPB.