[Ananya Mukherjee, our Vulture Recovery Project Assistant updates us on progress towards the creation of Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) in India…]
"A lot has been done but there are still miles to go" is an apt tagline while pushing the cause of the vultures in the Indian subcontinent where partners realise the mammoth task ahead in working their way towards creating VSZs.
The challenging task of advocating for VSZs finally saw progress with the Drug Controlling Authority (DCA) for the Gujarat VSZ. Repeated visits and phone calls alongside advocacy work resulted in the DCA issuing a circular on strong action against misuse of diclofenac for veterinary purposes, under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (1940).
Gujurat VSZ Advocacy Officer (first from left) Aditya Roy (Ananya Mukherjee).
Strict instructions were given during the investigation of retail and wholesale medical shops where inspection are made on the purchase and sale of diclofenac for veterinary use. Any agency found selling diclofenac for veterinary use would be penalised under the Act and they would be reported to the Food and Drug Commissioner.
Additional orders were given to record details of use of diclofenac and its formulations in veterinary sector in all monthly reports.
This milestone followed close behind a similar notice by the Assam DCA earlier in January this year, when the Assam VSZ lobbied the Food and Drug Commissioner to control the unwarranted sale of diclofenac within the state by pharmacists and chemists. As enforcement is difficult within the Indian subcontinent, such Government orders are essential to reinforce the ban and plug the leakages whereby this drug gets into the vulture food chain.
As I continue advocating for the vultures, I am hoping to create a wave of such activities within all of the VSZs through which the cause of the vultures will gain momentum to prevent the illegal sale of the large vial size of human diclofenac across the subcontinent.
Vulture Safe Zone Co-ordinator Kartik Shastri and the offending diclofenac (Ananya Mukherjee)
If you are interested, the full Directive is attached.
[Contributed by Dr Steffen Oppel, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB - all photos are credited to Steffen Oppel]
In February/March this year my colleague Mark Bolton and I visited Ascension Island to help the AIG Darwin Project and seabird teams to track seabirds.
We focussed on two large species - Masked Boobies and Ascension Frigatebirds.
Masked Boobies - above
Ascension frigatebird that will soon be ready to fly - above.
We studied their foraging ranges at sea using minature GPS loggers that were taped to the tail feathers of the bird. These loggers weigh around 20 g and do not affect large seabirds, but they can record a precise location every two minutes for more than one week, and thus reveal the incredible foraging journeys of seabirds in great detail.
The loggers (barely visible on the upper end of the tail)
Masked booby tracking
On this trip we captured 28 masked Boobies on 20 nests. We then returned about one week later to recapture the birds and retrieve the loggers from their tails. None of the loggers failed us, and we recovered almost all of them, except for 5 birds that had left after their nest had failed. The birds from which loggers were retrieved were not lighter at recapture than at first capture, which indicated that the logger attachment did ot affect the foraging behaviour of the birds.
Together with data collected by the RSPB in 2011, a total of 63 foraging rips from 41 individual Masked Boobies are now available. The foraging trips by the birds are spectacular, and cover virtually the entire exclusive economic zone around the island! The birds appear to take off in a random direction and fly up to 340 km away from Ascension, foraging as they go along, and then return to the colony 1-3 days later. Most birds did not fly off into the same direction of subsequent trips, and the two members of a pair also went into different directions. So, there does not seem to be a 'hotspot' where they forage around Ascension - they just go as far as they can and explore the huge expanse of ocean to find food for their chicks.
Ascension Frigate bird tracking
Tracking these birds was slightly more complicated, because the birds only nest on Boatswainbird Island.
After all the researchers climbed the ladder, it was time to hoist equipment from the boat onto the island
We managed to take the boat out to Boatswainbird Island 5 times to deploy 45 GPS loggers on frigatebirds with small chicks and egss. We also deployed an experimental camera on the back of a female frigate bird to get a 'birds-eye-view' of a foraging trip.
Capturing the frigate birds unproblematic, but re-capturing the birds to retrieve the loggers was more difficult. The main challenge was that adult birds left their chicks unattended for extended periods, so the birds that had our loggers attached to their tail were not on Boatswainbird Island when we were there! However, we still managed to retrieve 19 of the loggers and 1 of 3 cameras.
From the 19 retrieved GPS tags we downloaded a total of 44 complete foraging trips. Incubating adults spent longer at sea and travelled further than adults that had to take care of a small chick. Although some birds repeatedly took off into the same direction, the general pattern of space use was similar to boobies in that birds set off in all directions and used virtually the entire exclusive economic zone around Ascension.
Record facts of Ascension Frigatebirds
While much more needs to be learned about the remarkable foraging journeys of Ascension's seabirds, it appears that sustainable management of all the waters in a large (>300 km) radius around the island will be necessary to ensure that these birds can continue to raise their chicks here. We found no area whether either frigatebirds or boobies concentrated, and there may simply be no reliable foraging hotspot that has a guaranteed supply of fish to make the journey to the place worthwhile.
Frigatebirds are aerial acrobats despite their large wings
Currently confined to the uninhabited island of Raso (7 sq km), the Raso lark is Critically Endangered and at a high risk of extinction through drought and potential introduction of predators. In 2011, the population was around 1,500 individuals, a massive increase since 2001 because of a run of wet autumns that were ideal for breeding. However, the population has always followed a boom and bust pattern (the population in 2001 numbered fewer than 100 birds), and a long drought now will take the species back to the brink of extinction. The best way of ensuring its survival is to restore the neighbouring and much larger island of Sta Luzia (35 sq km), where the species used to be present. However, this island has a population of feral cats, and an eradication programme is required. Translocation of the larks in the near future is ideal, while the population is at a high, and this would also open Sta Luzia to population by native seabirds and secure important reptile populations.
We have brought you news of this species in the past (click here), and now there is a proposed film expedition to Cape Verde to create a documentary of the biodiversity of Raso. To find out more, click here, and there is even an option to take part in development of the programme.