ZSL vets offer India’s vultures a lifeline
An experienced vet from ZSL visited India to assist in the development of local vulture programme vets in India and Nepal through training and the development of new techniques in the care of vultures at the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres.
This is a significant initiative to establish a long term programme of care for the vultures funded by the Prince Bernhard Fund for Nature.
In addition, ZSL’s Senior Veterinary Officer, Andrew Routh undertook a successful mission to save critically endangered vultures injured in India’s annual Kite Festival, Uttarayan.
Hundreds of birds are severely injured in the Kite Festival which is held to celebrate the end of winter. Fighter kites with strings covered in powdered glass are flown by competitors, who attempt to cut rival kites out of the sky. Numerous birds become entangled in the kite strings as they fly. Many are killed and, of the survivors, 90% are permanently disabled and never fly again.
Estimates suggest 65% of a local vulture population were badly injured during the kite festival, with a number of vultures bleeding to death before they could be rescued.
“The Kite Festival represents a serious threat to these already critically endangered species,” said Andrew Routh. “In 2005, vultures injured in the Kite Festival and taken to Rescue Centres had poor survival rate. A number of vultures died because local vets did not have the experience to save them. ZSL hopes to leave the vets with a legacy of skills they will be able to use to save injured birds in the future.”
Routh travelled to Gujarat to provide first aid care and surgery for vultures injured in the Kite Festival as well as to share his knowledge of avian medicine, anaesthesia and surgery with the veterinary teams at Ahmedabad’s Animal Help Foundation’s (AHF) Rescue Centre and ZSL’s partners in the Vulture Recovery Programme from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Working alongside the AHF team and utilising their facilities, Routh’s expertise ensured the survival of hundred per cent of the vultures admitted to the Rescue Centre. Despite being permanently disabled, these vultures can be transferred to captive breeding centres where they will play a vital role in the conservation of their species.
Routh commented, “Populations of Indian vultures are declining so fast it is vital that conservationists are able to collect as many vultures from the wild for the breeding centres as possible. To lose vultures through injury would be a waste of these fascinating and necessary birds.”
Routh has made two previous trips to India to deliver veterinary workshops offering substantial practical training for veterinary surgeons working on the Vulture Recovery Programme. He is consulted regularly regarding the ongoing healthcare of all the vultures at the Vulture Breeding Centre in Pinjore, ensuring the survival of the endangered species.
Once the rescued vultures have recovered they will be relocated to one of the Vulture Recovery Programme’s breeding centres, where they can continue their lives in safety whilst making a crucial contribution to the conservation of their species.