Thinning of vulture populations in the Indian subcontinent

March 31, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Vultures constitute an important component of the ecosystem. Being carrion feeders, they perform an important task as finishers in the ecosystem in returning human and animal corpses into their elemental forms back into the system and thus play a significant role as cleaners or disposers in the nature. They are capable of stripping carcasses free of all flesh, soft and hard tissues such as tendons, cartilages, softer bones, skins, hairs and keratins with their sharp claws and beaks; and due to special enzymes in their stomach are capable of digesting them. Different species of vultures are reported from the Indian subcontinent and unfortunately the populations of most of these ecologically important species are showing serious signs of decline across most of their natural ranges. Some of the factors that have contributed towards the rapid decline of the populations of different species of vultures across the subcontinent include: loss of habitats and habitat fragmentations; removal of old and big trees in and around city fringes, city parks and city gardens causing loss of suitable nesting sites; rapid and unplanned urbanization drive to cater to the growing human populations in the cities and towns; unprecedented boom of real estate business and infrastructural developments causing the loss of green spaces within and around the major city areas, the added areas and their subsequent extensions and in the greater metropolitan areas including district towns and municipalities; rapid, unrestricted, unplanned and unmonitored growth of both legal as well as illegal industrial units within city limits and adjacent areas causing pollution of the local environment; severe anthropogenic pressures in the remaining open spaces at the city fringes due to human encroachments and establishments of slums and shanties; communicable diseases among vulture populations; and last but not the least, poisoning of the animal carcasses on which these birds feed as their primary food sources both intentionally as well as accidentally. Furthermore, pesticide poisoning of the birds have also been reported from several parts of the subcontinent.

Subsequent scientific studies established that diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug commonly administered to the Indian livestock for the treatment of wounds and inflammations, as one of the potent chemicals that have been killing and decimating the vulture populations in India through the process of biomagnification. The leading cause of death through poisoning by the drug among vultures is through drastic renal failures. The species that have been worst impacted are the Indian vulture (Gyps indicus Scopoli), the white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis Gmelin) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris Hodgson (in Gray)); that were reduced from stable populations of several millions to just a few thousands over the span of two-three decades.

In several parts of their former ranges a decline between >70-85% to < 97-99% in their wild populations have been reported raising an important concern for their threats to extinction in the next 20-25 years.  Unfortunately, the Indian vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the white-rumped vultures are all now placed under the category of critically endangered by the IUCN; while the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus Linnaeus) is currently considered to be endangered. The only species that is evaluated to be near threatened in the wild is the famous Himalayan vulture or better known as the Himalayan griffon vulture (Gyps himalayensis Hume) that is restricted to the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau and is not dependent too heavily upon livestock carcass as their principal dietary source; and the Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus Hablizil) which is under the least concern category. The facts clearly indicate that the vultures belonging to the genus Gyps are most readily impacted and also these species are distributed predominantly in the river valleys, great northern and western plain lands and the plateau region of the subcontinent with significant agronomic activities and substantial livestock populations. Hence the biomagnification poisoning through diclofenac has been identified as one of the most devastating factors decimating the vulture populations in the Indian subcontinent in addition to several other anthropogenic factors mentioned above.

Several vulture rehabilitation, breeding and reintroduction centers have been established in India being alarmed with the sharp decline of the vulture populations and a few more are coming or are being proposed. However, their numbers are too meager compared to the need from the context of species revival. Some success has been documented in the breeding, rearing and reintroduction of different vulture species in the wild in various parts of their former home ranges; however, much needed to be done. Steps have been taken in removing diclofenac as the preferred veterinary drug by the cattle handlers and livestock operators with other alternatives having much lower impacts on the vulture populations has been recommended and/or prescribed. But the drug is continued to be used in small to moderate numbers till date across the home range of the vultures. Lack of education and awareness; as also lack of care and empathy for the long term sustainability of the local ecosystem and environment by agricultural workers, cattle handlers and livestock operators have been another serious concern that needs to be addressed sincerely by the vulture conservation agencies. It will be necessary to completely ban this drug from the livestock industry and strong monitoring and surveillance will be necessary to evaluate the wild populations of vultures in the coming decades. Unless a comprehensive conservation, rehabilitation and reintroduction policy is adopted with strong legislative measures and effective wildlife management strategy is implemented and practiced in saving the Indian vultures, their future looks extremely grim and vulnerable with dangers of extinction in the wild.

Article contributed by: Saikat Kumar Basu

Seventh Annual FeatherFest

February 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

Elks Club, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America
Hosted by the Connecticut Parrot Society the Featherfest offers a great day of entertainment and education. Visitors can look forward to a presentation by Horizon Wings raptor rehabilitation center, as well as a discussion by Jamie Whittaker on parrot behaviour and living with a parrot. The FeatherFest also offers bird owners the opportunity to speak to veterinarians about their parrots.Children will be in awe of the parrots performing tricks and on display. There will be a number of stalls offering parrot-related goods.
For more information visit www.connecticutparrotsociety.org

Date: 22 March 2014
Time: 10:00-17:00
Location: Elks Club, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America

Education and Rehabilitation at Wild Wings Sanctuary

November 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

With the goal of promoting environmental conservation through education, Wild Wings Inc. serves as a sanctuary and rehabilitation center focusing primarily on raptors, and offers educational programs to encourage awareness of, and personal responsibility for, the natural world of which we are all a part. Operating as a not-for-profit corporation, Wild Wings is located in the Mondon Ponds Park, near the intersection of Pond Road and Clover Street, Honeoye Falls, NY. Visitors to the sanctuary will be able to view the more than twenty birds of prey which, due to their injuries, are unable to be released into the wild and have become permanent residents at Wild Wings.

The permanent residents of Wild Wings include a magnificent female Golden Eagle named Isis that broke both wings when colliding with a car in 1995. Athena is a female Bald Eagle that suffered a gunshot wound and is no longer able to fly, while the male Harris’ Hawk Sierra was unsuccessful as a falconry bird and is unable to hunt for his food. Resident owls that have suffered various injuries and are unable to fend for themselves include the male Barred Owl named Hunter; the one-eyed female Eastern Screech Owl named Wink; the male Long-eared Owl named Cody; and a Saw-Whet Owl named Blaze. The birds are housed in large enclosures along a pathway, offering visitors a close-up view. Feeding of the birds is not permitted, and visitors are asked to refrain from making sudden movements and not make too much noise as this startles the birds.

Workshops, demonstrations and other educational programs are all part of the effort Wild Wings is making to educate the public about the difference each one of us can make in preserving nature and the environment. Among the Wild Wings Classes are Owls and Creatures of the Night; Nest Boxes; Animal House; Critter Class and Owl Pellet Program. The Wild Wings Raptors on the Road is a series of programs where trained volunteers travel to various venues to perform live bird of prey demonstrations, conduct owl pellet dissection workshops, give art and photography students the opportunity to use live raptors as models, and a general ‘meet and greet’ with a variety of birds. Wild Wings also offers programs to fulfill requirements for New York State Boy Scout and Girl Scout badges.

The beautiful setting at Mendon Ponds Park offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a day in the outdoors with nature hikes and guided tours. Add to this a visit to the Wild Wings facility and you have the perfect venue for a family outing.

Rescuing and Rehoming Parrots in Southern Nevada

September 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Operated by a team of dedicated volunteers, the Southern Nevada Parrot Education, Rescue & Rehoming Society (SNPERRS) focuses on the rescue and rehoming of parrots, many of which are donated by owners who are no longer in the position to care for them. The ongoing economic crisis in the United States has led to an unprecedented number of home foreclosures, leaving many household pets homeless as families move into rented lodgings or are taken in by other family members or friends. This has led to an influx of birds looking for new homes, making the services of the SNPERRS invaluable.

SNPERRS staff members understand that making the decision to rehome a beloved pet bird is very difficult for both owner and pet, and birds are admitted to the rehoming program only upon the written consent of the owner. While there is no set fee for donating a bird, owners should be aware that each bird admitted to the program undergoes a thorough checkup by an avian veterinarian as part of the procedure, so monetary donations are most welcome. Adoption fees are also kept low and are used to offset veterinarian fees in an effort to ensure a self-sustaining non-profit program. Some owners may choose to donate their parrot because the bird has behavioral issues. In these cases the SNPERRS offers to assist in modifying the bird’s behavior with the goal of keeping it in the home.

Once a bird has been signed over to the society it will initially be placed in a foster home where it will have the opportunity to acclimatize to its new environment and socialize with its foster family. Potential adopters must allow a home visit by the society’s rehoming committee to ensure the bird’s environment is suitable and that the family adopting the bird is familiar with its needs. New owners are asked to send reports of how the bird has settled into its new home and any interesting experiences or interactions they have had with their new feathered family member.

In a recently published interview, executive director of SNPERRS Madeleine Franco noted that since 2007 the society has rehomed more than 100 birds and assisted as many with correcting behavioral problems, helping them to remain with their original owners. She pointed out that giving up a pet can be a traumatic process for both owner and bird as parrots are unique creatures with their own personalities. It is also difficult for a bird to adapt when its owner dies. Whatever the reason for a bird needing a new home, foster families play a crucial role in nurturing and resocializing birds, knowing as they do that their home is a temporary arrangement while a new home is sought. Foster families are clearly very special people stepping in to make the rehoming procedure a more positive experience for parrots in need.

Montecasino Bird Gardens in South Africa

July 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Situated in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, South Africa, Montecasino Bird Gardens is home to more than sixty species of birds, along with a variety of small mammals, amphibians and reptiles from around the world. With pathways winding through lush gardens and a huge walk-through aviary, visitors can enjoy a tropical paradise and get back to nature without leaving the city.

One of the highlights of a visit to this award winning attraction is the Flight of Fantasy show which take place weekdays at 11h00 and 15h00, with an extra show at 13h00 on weekends and public holidays. Staged at the beautifully crafted Tuscan amphitheater, trainers guide talented and colorful birds through a forty minute performance that is both educational and entertaining, with (quite literally) the biggest star of the show being Oliver, the Southern White Pelican.

Features of Montecasino Bird Gardens include the largest collection of South African Cycads in the world, with 37 different species and over 750 plants, the oldest of which is estimated to be older than 2,500 years. The Lorikeet aviary offers visitors the opportunity to feed these colorful birds their favorite treat of nectar, while Macaws and Cockatoos roam freely in the park’s Parrot Gallery. In addition to a variety of frogs, the Frog Room features scorpions and spiders. Reptiles at Montecasino include a six-meter Reticulated Python as well as all of Southern Africa’s most venomous snakes, including the Black Mamba and Puff Adder. Resident mammals include Lemurs, Meerkats, Sloths and Blue Duikers.

Among the latest arrivals at Montecasino Bird Gardens are Laughing Kookaburras and Blue-Wing Kookaburras, Caribbean Flamingoes, Green-Naped Pheasant Pigeons and Keel-Billed Toucans. One of Montecasino’s ambassadors for conservation is Moholoholo the Cape Vulture. Named for the rehabilitation center in Hoedspruit which nursed him back to health after being poisoned by farmers who were attempting to eradicate predatory jackals. Moholoholo was the only survivor of his eighteen member family. Through the dedication of the staff at Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center, the bird was taught to walk and fly again and now helps to educate the public on the necessity of conservation.

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