Volunteer feeds a rescued Himalayan griffon in Sujabad of Shahjahanpur upazila, Bogura,  5 January 2020
Volunteer feeds a rescued Himalayan griffon in Sujabad of Shahjahanpur upazila, Bogura, 5 January 2020Soel Rana

The largest birds of the Himalayas, the Himalayan griffon or Himalayan vulture, migrate to Bangladesh every winter. When the mercury plummets in the Himalayas, these feathered friends seek respite in these warmer climes. But the distance is long and after the long, wearisome flight, they literally collapse by the time they reach the northern region of Bangladesh. They land and lie there for long.

Two Himalayan griffons were rescued in a span of two days in Shibganj, Bogura. One was found in the village Anantapur of Shibganj upazila in Bogura on Monday. The other was found on Tuesday in Paikpara in the same upazila.

Jahangir Kabir, inspector of Rajshahi Division’s wildlife management and nature conservation division, told Prothom Alo that members of the Team for Energy and Environmental Research (TEER) had brought news of the birds. Later the wildlife management and nature conservation division and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) together rescued the vultures.

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Volunteers of TEER, a students’ organisation of Bogura Government Azizul Huq College, rescued one of the vultures under supervision of Mizanur Rahman, consultant of the Vulture Conservation Project of IUCN. The next day another vulture was recovered. The two vultures are being cared for under supervision of TEER member Shabbir Shakil.

Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Shibganj, Alamgir Kabir, told Prothom Alo that an extremely large vulture was injured after it fell from a tree in Saidul Islam’s mango orchard in Paikpara on Tuesday afternoon. When the local people were bothering it, the vulture pecked and injured two of them. The Shibganj police heard of the incident and rescued the bird. The forest department was informed and they sent a rescue team to whom the bird was handed over. After the two vultures recover, they will be kept at the Vulture Rescue and Care Centre of the Shingra Jatiya Udyan (Shingra National Gardens) in Dinajpur.

Chief Researcher of IUCN’s vulture project, Sarwar Alam (Simanta Dipu), told Prothom Alo that of the seven species of vulture in Bangladesh, the red-headed vulture or ‘raj shokun’ was completely extinct. There were also very few Bengal vultures and slender-billed vultures left. There are reportedly 260 Bengal vultures left. And three species of migratory vultures appear in the country, mainly the Himalayan Griffon.

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Researcher Simanta Dipu said towards November and December the Himalayan Griffons begin to fly to the plains to escape the cold and icy winds of the Himalayas. They return in March.

The vultures have to fly for about 1000km. Once they end their arduous journey and arrive at the plains, they do not always get sufficient food. That is why they are often found lying exhausted on the ground in various places of North Bengal. Every year around 100 vultures come to Bangladesh and around 40 of them fall sick and weary.

In 2014, IUCN took up the vulture rescue and care centre project in Dinajpur’s Shingra forest to rescue these vultures. Over the past six years they rescued and released 99 vultures. This season 18 Himalayan Griffons were rescued. The two vultures rescued in Bogura will be brought to Dinajpur, fed and treated and tended to for three months. They will then be released in the first week of April.

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Each Himalayan Griffon weighs about 13kg, said Simanta Dipu. But when found in Bangladesh, they are down to just around 4kg or 5kg. They double in weight in just a few days’ feeding. Their main food is dead animals. In Bangladesh, animals are often treated with the drugs diclofenac and ketoprofen. But vultures die speedily or they eat the animals treated with these drugs. Vultures are also threatened in this country due to a crisis of food and habitat.

IUCN members say that due to proper publicity, now if vultures are found anywhere, the people immediately inform the forest department or the authorities and the birds are saved. Reports were received of three vultures dying this year. IUCN has requested the people to inform them or the local authorities or the forest department if vultures are found anywhere.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir