The Peregrine Fund hopes first breeding of captive Long-billed Vultures will save critically endangered species
12 July 2010BOISE, Idaho – The first successful captive breeding of Long-billed Vultures is a hopeful sign that the birds can be saved from extinction, according to The Peregrine Fund, the conservation group that discovered the source of catastrophic vulture die-offs in South Asia.
"This is the first important step in what will undoubtedly be a long process of recovering a critically endangered species," said Tom Cade, founder of The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation group focused on birds of prey. In 2004, The Peregrine Fund published a study in the journal "Nature" identifying the veterinary use of the drug diclofenac as the contaminant causing vulture populations to crash by up to 99 percent. The three species affected are Oriental White-backed, Long-billed, and Slender-billed vultures.
As a result of The Peregrine Fund's discovery, the governments of India, Nepal, and Pakistan banned the veterinary use of the drug in 2006 but monitoring shows that the birds continue to be exposed to it. The anti-inflammatory painkiller is used to treat sick cattle and other domestic animals before they die and are left to the vultures.
"The veterinary use of diclofenac must end immediately if we are to save these environmentally essential birds from disappearing forever," Cade said.
The first successful breeding of captive Long-billed Vultures resulted in three chicks that hatched in February and March. All of them fledged by June 29. Two other breeding centers in India have successfully produced Oriental White-backed and Slender-billed vultures. With diclofenac still a danger, however, none have yet been released to the wild.
Vultures play a key role in cleaning up dead animals and preventing the spread of disease. Once numbering in the tens of millions, vulture populations are now below an estimated 60,000 individuals, according to Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
"The Slender-billed Vulture is now so rare its survival may be entirely dependent on reproduction in captivity," said Rick Watson, The Peregrine Fund's vice president. "Long-billed and Oriental White-backed Vultures are not far behind."
In addition to its pioneering research into the cause of the vulture population crash, The Peregrine Fund established the Asian Vulture Population Project in 2000 to monitor vulture populations, provide conservation expertise, and work to remove diclofenac from the environment. The organization compiles data annually on the numbers and distribution of vultures gathered by dozens of field researchers at more than 100 vulture breeding sites in India, Pakistan and Nepal.
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