On 17th September 2018, Government of Nepal, national and international conservation organisations released 12 critically endangered white-rumped vultures Gyps bengalensis, in to the wild at vulture release site, Pithauli, Nawalparasi. It includes the first eight birds actually hatched within the vulture conservation and breeding center, Kasara, Chitwan National Park. Releases of six captive reared (but not hatched) birds in last year have so far shown very promising signs of survival and success, and in addition, 20 wild birds have now been satellite-tagged.
The first gate opens and several birds immediately joined the wild birds at the carcass outside. Photo: BCN
The work is a collaborative effort of many partners, led by Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) together with Chitwan National Park and the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC). The Director General of DNPWC and a small group of officials, scientists and community leaders watched as the BCN team quietly opened the doors of the release aviary using a remote pulley system. Six of the twelve vultures exited the release aviary and joined the wild birds feeding on the buffalo carcass almost immediately, and all twelve came out within half an hour. Six of the birds later returned inside the aviary where they spent the night, but immediately flew out again the following morning. The release site is at the village of Pithauli, Nawalparasi, close to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.
Fitting the satellite tag and wing-tags a week before the release. Photo: BCN
“This is a world first for the release of white-rumped vultures actually bred in the Nepal breeding centre and is a major step for establishing secure wild populations now that we are confident that the veterinary use of diclofenac has been stopped in this country” said Mr Man Bahadur Khadka, DG, DNPWC.
The previous week, an expert team from the UK (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Forestry Commission) together with the BCN team had fitted satellite tags to the birds with carefully designed harnesses (using the thoracic cross-hatch method), ready so they can be monitored after the release, and give us vital information about their movements, and any problems or causes of mortality. The team also caught and tagged nine wild White-rumped Vultures, which are already being monitored, to compare their movements and behaviour with the released birds.
“The monitoring of the satellite-tagged birds is an important way to understand how well the birds are surviving, and to assess the safety of the “Vulture Safe Zone” said Ishana Thapa, CEO of BCN. “If these and the previously tagged birds all survive then this is a further sign that the vulture conservation efforts are working”. Krishna Bhusal, BCN’s Vulture Conservation Program Officer of BCN added: “Releasing vultures, hatched in captivity, in this location, combines our in situ and ex situ efforts to save these birds, and the process of keeping the birds in the pre-release aviary for several months before release allows them to adjust and interact with wild birds - This is an exciting day for me and all Nepal”.
Briefing and speeches of the release immediately beforehand. Photo: BCN
Chief Conservation Officer of Chitwan National Park Bed Kumar Dhakal said “We are proud that the vulture breeding at the Breeding Centre in Chitwan National Park has taken off, with nine chicks last year and six more in 2018”.
Mr DB Choudhary, the local conservation community leader added “The Nawalparasi community is proud that their area has been selected for this historic release, following a series of vulture conservation initiatives in the area including running the vulture-safe feeding site here since 2006”
Chris Bowden, RSPB and Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) Programme Manager said “The successful removal of veterinary diclofenac across Nepal thanks to a lot of hard work, is the real reason behind the success so far and without this we couldn’t have gone ahead. These are the first ever Asian vultures to have been hatched and bred within a breeding programme and taken to the concluding phase of release to the wild. This illustrates the rationale behind these efforts and if enough birds survive without encountering killer veterinary drugs, we will be on track to release all the birds in the near future.”
The vulture conservation work in Nepal is carried out with the full support of DNPWC, and led by BCN. The breeding centre was established in 2008 and is jointly managed by NTNC and Chitwan National Park. The main funding (and technical) support has come from the RSPB, but significant resources also come from all organisations involved as well as the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) who provide veterinary support and helped with funds for the release aviary, and the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in the UK.
In the release day event chief guest of the program was Chesram Ale, District Coordination Committee, Nawalparasi East, and special guest was Man Bahadur Khadka, Director General. Other guests of the program were Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Deputy Director General,DNPWC, Bed Kumar Dhakal, Chief Conservation Officer, Chitwan National Park, Chanda Kumari Pun, Mayor, Kawaswoti Municipality, Dasu Raj Pokharel, Chairman, Chamber of Commerce, Kawaswoti, Deepak Kumar Singh, Executive Director, National Trust for Nature Conservation, Rajendra Gurung, President, Bird Conservation Nepal, Ishana Thapa, Chief Executive Officer, Bird Conservation Nepal, Bhogendra Rayamajhi, Senior Program Officer, Chrish Bowden, SAVE Program Manager, D.B. Chaudhary, Coordinator, Jatayu Restaurant, Kawaswoti, Basu Dev Paudel, President, Lamichaur Buffer Zone Community Forest Coordination Committee, Khil Bahadur Gurung, President, Namuna Buffer Zone Community Forest and journalist, local stakeholders and community people.
Calendar of the Nepal white-rumped vulture release programme so far:
Flying free in wild. Photo: Rajendra Gurung BCN