Here is some really good news for the environmentalists and bird lovers. It seems that a bird that had been pushed to the brink of extinction due to various reasons is now making a spirited fight back. The bird in question is Egyptian Vulture and the place where this revival is being observed is the Yamuna river islands in the Delhi region.
TK Roy, an eminent ecologist and conservationist says that there is an increase in the number of Egyptian Vultures in the Yamuna river island region of Delhi. “Since 2015, I have monitored an increased number in Egyptian Vulture in Delhi. The increase has been dramatic, from 02 to 58, mainly on the seasonal form witnessed in the particular sandy island on River Yamuna in Delhi. This is encouraging.” he says.
“The population of Egyptian Vultures has been rapidly declining in India due to several major threats as climatic disturbance, poisoning, electrocution, scarcity of food, habitat loss but largely due to the toxic effect of veterinary anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac through livestock carcasses. As a result, all species of vultures’ population declined drastically, up to 95% in the 1990s and largely disappeared in the country including NCR of Delhi,” says Roy.
According to Roy, in this decade, the number of Egyptian vultures has slowly increased in certain parts of the country and in NCR-Delhi seasonally. The maximum figure 58 was recorded in February 2022 but it depends on the water level of Yamuna.
According to facts from various sources, the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the vulture species commonly known as the White Scavenger Vulture due to its distinctive white colour plumage with bright yellow bill and face. A wide range of these is distributed in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Roy emphasises, “As per Birdlife International’s estimation, the global population size of this species has increased from 12,400-36,000 mature individuals, roughly equating to 18,600-54,000 individuals. However given extremely rapid population decline, it has been enlisted as Endangered (EN) category of vulture species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2012.”
Data says that there are three subspecies of the Egyptian vulture in the world, of which two subspecies are found in India; Neophron Percnopterus Percnopterus and Neophron Percnopterus Ginginianus.
“Satellite tagging of Egyptian Vultures in Central Asian countries to mark its migration routes and wintering sites have now discovered Egyptian Vultures also migrated from Central Asia to Western & South Asia including India for autumn to winter and it is enlisted in CMS Appendix I. By recent satellite-tagging, three Egyptian Vultures in Uzbekistan in September 2021 by Bulgarian Society For Protection of Birds and out of three two vultures arrived in Rajasthan (Jorbeer and Bhadriya) and further movement recorded in U.P and even up to Delhi area. Last year, one sub-species of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus ginginianus) was also recorded at the Ghazipur Landfill area by a birder. Satellite tagged migration route of the vultures” says Roy.
He further says that there might be chances of the migratory Egyptian Vultures in the flocks as recorded on Yamuna islands in Delhi in the season of autumn winter. However, proper identification and photography to confirm the sub-species are not always possible due to being far on the sandy islands in the middle of Yamuna from the riverbanks and due to usually hazy weather.
“It’s an opportunity for NCT of Delhi Government Wildlife Department to work towards the conservation, protection and sustainable improvement of islands of Delhi for the roosting, nesting, feeding of Endangered Vulture Species,” he urges.
Though there are some concerns. “I have been recording this species sighting from two pairs in September 2015 to 50 in October 2021, 53 in January and 58 in February 2022. Vultures choose Yamuna river island's habitat for roosting depending on safety and isolation points of view. If the water level at Yamuna river island rises, the temporary islands submerge and while the water level drops islands forms. If the water level drops substantially, the islands become exposed to feral dogs, cattle and humans who can easily reach there. Such factors affect the temporary settlement of vultures.”