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From Temples to Tigers: Monitoring Vultures in India
Yeray Seminario — in Asian Vulture Crisis    Share


The Asian Vultures Crisis, as it came to be known, is one of the most compelling stories in wildlife conservation. Vultures in South Asia were dying off by the thousands and entire populations were plummeting. Finally, it was proven that a drug called Diclofenac, widely used to treat cattle and other livestock at the end of the last century, was inadvertently causing the death of these vultures. The Peregrine Fund solved the mystery and now the drug is banned in India, Nepal and Pakistan. To this day, The Peregrine Fund keeps monitoring the vulture populations in India.

Since I first learned about this project, I always dreamed of being involved with it, somewhere, somehow. Last November I was very fortunate to accompany Patrick Benson and Munir Virani in one of their trips to India.

Overall, it was a very intense trip, full of amazing experiences and sensations. It is difficult to say which were the best moments: floating down the Chambal River; discovering the beauty of Ranthambhore; seeing the vultures nesting in the palaces of Orchha; living the excitement of seeing my first tiger and my first Pallas's Fish Eagle; spending the night in the Jhansi train station; walking through the enormous dumps in Bikaner and Jaipur where we saw thousands of raptors; and the food... the food was just fantastic. It was a phenomenal experience overall and I was very lucky to be in the company of some wonderful people. I owe a big thanks to Munir, Pat, Pranay and Teeku for their company and friendship.

I'm posting a selection of pictures from this trip, hoping to give a glimpse of the excitement of working in such a lively and beautiful country.

I'd like to humbly dedicate this post to the memory of Lindsay Oaks, who recently passed away. I never met him, but he surely is a source of inspiration for a wildlife vet like me.

Editor's note:Lindsay Oaks was a close collaborator and long-time friend of The Peregrine Fund's, first getting involved as a teenager in the 1970s with the captive breeding and restoration of endangered Peregrine Falcons. He subsequently qualified as a veterinarian and specialized in avian virology. He played an important role in helping The Peregrine Fund discover that veterinary diclofenac was the primary cause of mortality that drove the catastrophic decline of Gyps vultures in South Asia. He also worked with The Peregrine Fund to discover and prevent the viral agent causing mortality in captive Aplomado Falcons, and to expose lead from spent ammunition, a fatal contaminant in food consumed by California Condors, as a contaminant also of processed venison consumed by humans. His interests and collaborations go well beyond these accomplishments; he will be missed by many.

Traveling the Chambal River, Pat B., Munir V. and I survey vulture nests from dawn to dusk

The local subspecies of Egyptian Vulture can be identified by the yellow tip of its beak

This enormous Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus) was roosting in a tree by the Chambal

Jodhpur, the Blue City, awakes below the mist and smoke

The priest greets us with Añjali Mudra, the usual greeting sign

We had to spend one night at the Jhansi station. And we were not the only ones...

As the sun rises above the Orccha Temple, the vultures fly off in search of nesting material. It is the beginning of breeding season

The Long-billed Vulture, a magnificent creature that is now endangered due to the use of diclofenac - a drug used to treat livestock

An Egyptian Vulture flies over a temple in the city of Orccha

There are not only raptors in India! The Rufous Treepie and the Purple Sunbird are common in the forests of India

A long life beneath the Indian sun is reflected on the face of this shepherd in the village of Nimli

The majestic tiger hides behind the bushes of Bandhavgarh forest

The Indian Crested Hawk-Eagle is a fairly common raptor, but avoided us in Bandhavgarh until the last minute

A young woman weeds on a mustard field

Another Long-billed Vulture carrying nesting material - this time inside Bhandavgarh National Park

During a five-days raptor survey in Rajhastan we had the opportunity to see Steppe Eagles and Lagger Falcons, among others

Find more articles about Aplomado Falcon, California Condor, Egyptian Vulture, Long-billed Vulture, Pallas's Fish Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Asia-Pacific

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