A stranded lone vulture, and its relocation from TN to Rajasthan

This is the tale of a vagrant cinereous vulture, possibly from Central Asia, that was stranded in Nagercoil after Cyclone Ockhi; it’s now getting relocated to Rajasthan, to be released in the wild

Udhayagiri Biodiversity Park, vulture relocation
The cinereous vulture with a forest guard at the Udhayagiri Biodiversity Park, Nagercoil. Pic: N Vinoth Kumar

Cyclone Ockhi, which hit Tamil Nadu in 2017, caused immense devastation not only to humans, but also birds and animals. In particular, it significantly disturbed the migratory movement of numerous birds at that time. 

One such bird was a lone cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), which got left behind and was stranded at Asaripallam, close to Nagercoil, in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district.

The vulture was rescued by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and treated by veterinarians. After that, it was under the care of the Udayagiri Biodiversity Park in Udayagiri Fort, Nagercoil. Now, the state government has decided to release the bird into the wild.

However, before it is released into the forest, it is to be relocated to the Keru site in Machia Biological Park in Rajasthan. A GPS-GSM tag has also been attached to the bird for continuous monitoring. To facilitate this process, the  Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has also been roped in.


cinereous vulture
The vulture with a GPS tag. Pic: Special Arrangement

First-of-its-kind attempt

M Ilayaraja, district forest officer, Kanyakumari, told The Federal that the distribution of this vulture species is mostly restricted to Central Asia and it is usually not found beyond that area. “But the species has been sighted in the past in winter breeding sites in Jharkhand and Kodiakkarai in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

In his view, the bird might have been stranded due to an obstruction in its upper airway. The situation is usually caused by the narrowing or blocking of upper breathing passages while flying during cyclones, which makes breathing difficult for the birds.

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Forest officials have planned the relocation for this week. “The bird will be relocated in a specially designed box. During relocation, the bird may experience stress and, to avoid that, the Pune Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre has been chosen as a mid-point. The Centre has a large aviary there and that could be a perfect resting place for this vulture. It will be kept there for sometime to reduce its stress. From there, it will be taken to Machia Biological Park,” explained Ilayaraja.

He added that during relocation, a veterinarian and a WII student will be present. This is the first time an attempt is being made by the state forest department to tag a vulture of this species and release it into the wild.

Abundance of feed

Rajasthan has been chosen to release the vulture because of the abundance of feed in that area.

“The Keru site is actually a cattle dumping site. So, naturally, thousands of vulture species feed on those cattle. At least some 40 to 50 cinereous vultures are found there,” said Ilayaraja.

He added that after the vulture has been taken to Rajasthan it will not be released into the forest immediately. Nesting arrangements will be made for the bird at first. 

“Daily feed and mingling with other vultures will help the bird to develop its skills and adapt to life in a forest. Until then, for at least two months, it will be monitored. During this period, it can also adapt to the weather of that region. This is what we call a soft release,” said Ilayaraja.

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Rescue centre turned park

Before it was converted into a park in 2002, the Udayagiri Biodiversity Park was basically a rescue centre for animals. In the past, it had rescued deers, peacocks and a cobra. After treatment, with the exception of the deers, all other animals were released into the wild.

Anthony Raja, a caretaker in the park, told The Federal that he has been entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the vulture.

“I have been looking after the bird for the last three years. It came here as a chick and it has now grown into an adult. We feed the bird beef and other meat every other day. It can eat up to 1 kg of meat. Within the cell, we have built a small water tank for the bird. The cell has been built around a large tree and the bird can be found perching on the branches most of the time,” he said.

Ilayaraja added that ornithologists like the Kanyakumari-based Robert Grubh have visited the centre and appreciated their efforts towards the vulture.

‘A worrying trend’

S Bharathidasan, co-founder, Arulagam, a Coimbatore-based organisation working for vulture conservation, said that this particular bird species has been sighted in the Mudumalai region and Kerala for the past three consecutive years.

“We cannot say this is a migratory bird. Sometimes one or two birds arrive here as vagrants. Its cousin species is found in Maharashtra and Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. If sufficient feed is available, it can adapt to this environment as well,” he said.

The Vulture Multi-Species Action Plan, developed by a team of vulture experts across the globe, says that the individual population size of this species is anywhere between 15,600 and 21,000 globally from 2004. It is categorised as ‘Near Threatened’, which means that though there is no immediate threat of becoming extinct, it may attain the status of ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ in the near future.

According to the Plan, some major threats facing the species include unintentional poisoning by cattle owners, electrocution with energy infrastructure, habitat degradation and climate change, since the fluctuating temperatures have resulted in failure of eggs to hatch.