The vulture conservation project which was launched some three years back may not meet the desired goals due to half hearted approach adopted by the government.
Not only two out of three “vulture restaurants” set up by state government have been abandoned, the wildlife department also doesn’t have any funds to buy healthy meat to feed vultures in the single operational restaurant, and are forced to depend on free carcasses.
To make things worse, the sale of Diclofenac, a banned anti-inflammatory drug considered to be responsible for the extinction of vultures, is going on unabated which has diluted the very purpose of vulture conservation programme.
Vultures are the last species in the trophic level of food chain as they consume rotting flesh and excrete digested material back onto the soil which again increases the productivity of soil, thus maintaining the food chain.
Disappearance of vultures will not only affect the eco system but will also affect on the equilibrium between populations of other scavenging species like dogs, besides increased number of putrefying carcasses.
The forest and wildlife preservation department had set up three “vulture restaurants” each at Chandola, Chamraur and Kathlore to feed Diclofenic-free carcass to vultures.
Out of these, only Chandola vulture restaurant situated on the bed of Chakki river is attracting the birds nesting in lower Himalayan ranges and nearby areas.
Sources said that due to lack of funds, the department was not able to buy carcass or other healthy meat but only depends on free supply of carcass through network of their forest rangers.
“Rangers keep an eye on any dead animal in the adjoining area of vulture restaurant and pick up the carcass through contractor on a fixed carriage payment of Rs 250,” sources said.
But there is no scientific way with the department to ensure whether the carcass was Diclofenac-free or not, even as it has a laboratory in Dhar Kalan in Pathankot district but without any equipment and staff.
Chief wildlife warden Dhirendra Singh agreed that they didn’t have enough manpower to run the laboratory nor they had allocated any special fund for the project. He also admitted that vulture restaurants had not been any good for the conservation of vultures.
“We can presume that number of vultures has increased depending on their visibility during feeding at vulture restaurant but we don’t have any scientific data to support the claim” he said.
But the locals don’t seem to be happy with the government approach of conservation of vultures. “In the beginning, there was some movement around the vulture restaurant but we hardly see anyone these days feeding vultures, may be once or twice in a week, which is not enough,” said the sarpanch of Dhar Khurd village, Mohinder Singh.
Banned for veterinary use in 2005, Diclofenac is still being used for fever and painful conditions in animals. Independent inquiries made by TOI revealed that Diclofenac is being sold clandestinely by some chemist shops. “If veterinary Diclofenac is not available, we use human Diclofenac, the medicine is same, the only difference is of quantity of dose which we adjust according to weight of the animal,” said a para-veterinarian.
“Farmers don’t have patience to wait for results by using desi medicines, so they themselves insist on use of quick healing medicines such as Diclofenac,” he said. Dhirendra Singh said that the department would inquire into the use of human Diclofenac for veterinary purposes.