Winter approaches and temperatures plummet a bit more in the northern region of Bangladesh. On a clear autumn day, the Himalayas can be seen from Panchgarh and adjacent areas. As the Himalayas are covered with snow in winter, animals there face a food scarcity. The biggest bird of the region, the Himalayan griffon vulture, which feeds of the carcasses of animals, finds itself in a crisis. This huge bird is around 4ft tall and weighs around 12kg. As the region is covered with snow, these birds migrate for the winter to warmer climes, to Bangladesh. Every year around 100 birds arrive in our country.
Almost half the vultures that fly all the way to Bangladesh, collapse to the ground, exhausted and unable to fly. The baby birds are all the more vulnerable. The birds are weak, hungry and tired. They have to fly a long, long way from the Himalayas to the plains of this land, sometimes travelling even 2000 miles. Once arriving here, they don't easily find dead animals and often go hungry for days.
From 2014, the Bangladesh forest department and the non-government IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) have been working with the Himalayan griffons. I am involved closely with this work. Basically the vultures that have fallen to the ground or have been caught by the people, are rescued and cared for.
A Vulture Rescue Centre has been set up at Singra in Dinajpur. Till last year, 114 vultures were rescued. The birds are rehabilitated at the centre, rehabilitated and released into the wild once they recover. This is a rare initiative for the conservation of vultures in the subcontinent.
There are all sorts of interesting stories about common people finding a vulture. Some demand Tk 100,000 in exchange for a captured vulture. Once I was even waylaid by some dangerous robbers when I was returning to the centre with a vulture. Last year a grocer closed his grocery shop and went into hiding when he caught a vulture, imagining he would now become impossibly wealthy. Then some people in Rangpur who found a vulture, thought this was a game bird, cooked it and ate it. Despite all this, we continue in our efforts to save the vultures. We explain and convince the people to bring the ailing vultures to the rescue centres.
At the end of winter, the migrating Himalayan griffons bid farewell. They stay here basically for three months. The vultures in captivity weigh around 3kg to 5kg. We provide each vulture with three kgs of meat a week. Then they gradually gain back their health and reach up to 7kg to 9kg in weight.
Of the six species of vultures in our country, the Himalayan griffon is the largest. Known as the sweepers of nature, these scavengers are harmless to humans. By eating the carcasses of animal, they effectively prevent the spread of germs and lower health risks of humans.
Over the last five years, awareness about the Himalayan griffon has increased in the northern region of the country. There are small organisations and individuals who come forward to rescue the birds and bring these to us. This year the first vulture rescue was on 2 November in Thakurgaon. If you hear of a vulture stranded anywhere, call the local forest department. The vulture conservation team will come to the rescue.
Every year in the first week of April, we release the rescued vultures into the wild. These birds have a special ring around their legs and a tiny red and green tag attached to their wings. As these massive birds take to the air in flight, we are excited, exultant and overjoyed.
* Simanto Dipu is a wild life researcher