Karachi: The vulture population in Pakistan has steeply declined over the last 20 years or so, and there is a need for accelerated efforts to save these large, magnificent birds, from the many insidious threats they’ve been facing.
This was the key message conveyed at the launch of a new vulture conservation project that is jointly being implemented by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Baanhn Beli.
The project “Preparation of a National Conservation Strategy” is being supported by the USAID Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program. The meeting invited senior government officials, representatives of the NGOs, representatives of the communities hailing from Tharparkar and the media.
In his welcome address Mr. Javed Jabbar, Founding President of Baanhn Beli, said that human intervention had encroached on the habitats of the animals, birds and other species and “it has pushed many species to the verge of extinction.”He also appreciated the generous support of the USAID as well as the presence of representatives from Tharparkar where this unique bird is found which reflects their serous interest in sharing the responsibility to support the restoration of the endangered vulture species.
Mr. Jabbar urged collaborative efforts to protect the habitats saying it was not possible for “us to ignore the essential role of vultures in our ecosystem.”
Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan, who was the chief guest on the occasion, expressed concerns about the absence of relevant officials at such important meetings focused on species conservation, and suggested a more proactive role on the part of the government for achieving positive results. He said that vulture is a unique bird bestowed with a natural ability to absorb all types of carcasses “filled diseases and viruses yet able to digest and provide a dead-end to those, for a cleaner environment.”
He said that the absence of vultures can lead to the rise in rabies and other diseases that have been eliminated after a long struggle by the governments.
Syed Mahmood Nasir, Inspector General Forest said that the fatal drug responsible for the death of vultures, called Diclofenac has been banned in the country, but it is unfortunate to note that the number of vultures have continued to shrink. “There is a need to impose strict penalties on the doctors who prescribed this drug. He further said that this bird is on the verge of extinction in the region.
Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative IUCN Pakistan, said that Pakistan’s work towards conservation of vultures was highly appreciated in the region, and highlighted IUCN’s partnership and convening approaches to such conservation initiatives. “Vultures’ project is one of the three projects that have been initiative in the recent past. These projects are being implemented through IUCN partnerships involving the government, public sector and civil society organizations.” He also appreciated efforts and contribution of the Pakistan National Vulture Recovery Committee. He also appreciated the role the media was playing in creating awareness.
Mr. Nadeem Mirbahar, NRM Coordinator at IUCN Pakistan, elaborated the importance of vultures through the history and its importance in the biological ecosystem. He informed the audience that vultures were valued for their ecological, social and cultural significance. He conveyed that the mystery of the speedy vulture population decline was unfolded by a research study conducted in Dholewala and Changa Manga forest during 2000-2001 by the Ornithological Society of Pakistan, which confirmed the use of “diclofenac sodium” (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) in the livestock sector as the main cause of vulture deaths.
He added that South Asia’s populations of long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus), slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) have declined by more than 90 per cent since the early 1990s. IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has listed all three species as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Dr. Mohammad Khan Marri, of Baanhn Beli, made a detailed presentation on the overview of the project. Mr. Mohammad Khan Marri said that Baanhn Beli would implement the project in collaboration with the technical support of IUCN Pakistan, other partners include: Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan, Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, WWF-Pakistan, Pakistan Zoological Survey of Pakistan, Pakistan National Vulture Recovery Committee.
Speaking on behalf of the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, Mr. Riaz Ahmed Wagan assured all the support to the project. He hoped that the project will be implemented successfully to achieve its objectives effectively.
At the closing of the ceremony President, Baanhn Beli, Dr. Shankar Lal, thanked all the participants and requested for continuously support for the Vulture Project.