International Vulture Awareness Day: Vanishing vultures
Long considered ominous creatures in our culture, vultures, in reality, play one of nature's most crucial roles and keep the ecosystem in order.
By disposing of carcasses, they help keep their surroundings free of fatal diseases. Yesterday was the International Vulture Awareness Day, a day to remember their significance and raise awareness of the species' dwindling numbers.
In Bangladesh, the number of vultures is decreasing by the day. If no initiative is taken, they may soon go extinct in the country, experts said.
According to the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department, the number of vultures in the country was 1,972 in 2008, which has come down to just 260 in the latest survey conducted in 2015-16. The government has allocated two spaces for their conservation, one in Habiganj's Rema Kalenga forest and another in the Sundarbans.
Tofazzal Sohel, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon Habiganj unit, said, vultures have virtually disappeared from Bangladesh. The species is faced with the same fate in other South Asian countries too.
"Ninety-nine percent of vultures have vanished from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries during this period," he said.
Tofazzal said treating cattle with medicines containing toxic chemicals -- like the banned Diclofenac and ketoprofen -- is to blame for this. After these cattles die, the vultures feeding on it fall ill due to the toxicity.
He also pointed out loss of habitat due to rapid urbanisation and deforestation as another reason behind their rapid disappearance.
Bangladesh Bird Club founder and renowned avian researcher Enam Ul Haque said, "Raising awareness among the public, especially school and college-going students, could help mitigate the situation."
"It's great that two places (Rema Kalenga and Sundarbans) have been allocated for vulture conservation, but this might not be a magic cure," he added.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department told this correspondent, the extinction of vultures is bound to adversely affect Bangladesh's biodiversity.
Rabies and anthrax might become endemic due to the disappearance of vultures, as no other species can digest and stop the diseases from spreading, he said.
"We are making sure that the vultures in Rema-Kalenga forest are not disturbed. During the calving period, especially in winter, one cow is fed to them every week or 15 days. However, these animals will benefit only if we protect tall trees," he said.
"For example, vultures used to come and sit in tea garden trees. But as many of them have been cut down, they don't get to do that anymore. This is why we must raise awareness for conserving tall trees as well," he added.