Rare White-Rumped Vulture Saved From Poison

A white-rumped vulture, a member of a nearly-extinct species, that nearly died after eating from the poisoned carcass of a buffalo in Stung Treng province, is again flying high over Cambodia, a conservation group said Thursday.

“The recovery of the vulture went well and now it is healthy and living in its own environment,” Pech Bunnat, Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project manager, said by telephone.

The raptor and another young-er vulture were found in Decem-ber by villagers and brought to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“They had a pretty healthy dose of poison when we got them,” Mark Gately, country program director for WCS, said. Seven others, however, weren’t so lucky: They succumbed to the poison in the carrion they had consumed, he said.

The recovered vulture, released in February, has since been sighted by tourists and rangers who recognize it by the tags on its wings and the band on one leg that conservationists attached before the release.

The younger vulture is still in the care of the Angkor Center for Con-servation of Biodiversity in Siem Reap.

“The young vulture has an in-jured leg because the villager tied it up when it was brought to us,” Pech Bunnat said.

Veterinarians say they are not sure what poisoned the birds. The main reason for the decline of vulture populations in Asia has been an anti-inflammatory drug used on cattle, called Diclofenac. However, that drug is not used in Cambodia.

“We’re not quite sure what poisoned the birds, but whatever the buffalo ate, that’s what sickened them,” Angela Yang, manager of the health program for WCS, said by phone Thursday.

Pech Bunnat said the likely culprit is pesticide.

“The farmers poison the crops, that poisons the water, then the buffalo drinks the water, and the vultures eat the carcass,” Pech Bunnat said.

Gately said farmers use poison in ponds to hunt fish and that cattle inevitably drink from those ponds.

Conservationists said they are trying to raise awareness about the vultures’ plight, and to spread information about using poisons as well as what to do if an injured or sick bird is encountered.

“Given that Diclofenac is not used here, there is a very good chance [vulture] numbers will increase in Cambodia,” Gately said, adding that an increase in wild carrion will also benefit the birds. Wild cattle are the vultures’ major source of food.

“Right now we have six or seven restaurants for vultures,” Gately said, explaining that once or twice a month cows are slaughtered and left for the birds as a method of monitoring their population.

White-rumped vultures mostly roam Cambodia, but their range once stretched from Pakistan to Vietnam. The species was red-listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conserva-tion of Nature in 2000 and their numbers on the Indian subcontinent have declined by 95 percent because of the use of Diclofenac, the WCS stated on a fact sheet.

The conditions here in Cambo-dia offer the best chance for the species survival, Pech Bunnat said.

“Cambodia doesn’t have a lot of mountains and we have the open, wild ranges that they like,” he said.

“Cambodians also don’t eat them because they are dirty birds,” he added.

 

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