Rio Tinto: Conserving India’s critically endangered vultures

Representing picture

India CSR News Network

NEW DELHI: Vultures are a critical part of the food chain. They maintain a balanced ecosystem and prevent unnecessary spread of diseases by removing rotten meat and bones.

According to Rio Tinto Sustainable development 2015 recently uploaded in Rio Tinto website, the dramatic decline in the Indian vulture population is directly linked to animal husbandry practices – specifically the use of the painkiller, diclofenac – to treat cattle. This painkiller poisons the vultures when they eat cattle carcasses.

Sadly, today almost 99 per cent of India’s vulture species have been eradicated. The Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) is included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list as critically endangered, and in the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972 as an endangered species which requires special conservation.

Rio Tinto is working with the Bombay Natural History Society to help conserve India’s vulture population. A major focus of the partnership is establishing a 32,000 square kilometre “Vulture Safe Zone” around Rio Tinto’s Bunder Diamond Project in the Chattarpur district
of Madhya Pradesh.

During the past three years the partnership has also:

Monitored the vulture population to establish a regional baseline;

Tracked specific indicators to help determine progress – including monitoring the use of veterinary diclofenac through carcass sampling; and

Raised awareness among more than 20,000 people about vultures, their conservation status and impact on the ecosystem.

In the first partnership of its kind in the mining industry in India, Rio Tinto was signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Bombay Natural History Society to support a number of wildlife management initiatives over a five year period on 28 January 2014.

The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, home to Rio Tinto’s developing Bunder diamond project, has a thriving population of birdlife and is a natural habitat for vultures. Together with Birdlife International and the Bombay Natural History Society, a 100 kilometre vulture “safety zone” will be established in Madhya Pradesh.

The expectation is that this will protect wild vultures and in the future, vultures from captive breeding centres in India could be re-introduced into the wild. Over time this would revert back to being a self-supporting population.

As per recent media report, for a second consecutive year, vultures at Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary have seen a rise in number. In a count conducted by the forest department of Ujjain, 682 vultures were spotted at the sanctuary – 21 more than last year.