Extinct vultures returning to Thailand?

This video says about itself:

Mongolian vulture, four other birds to be released back into the wild

Bangkok, 9 May 2007

1. Wide of Royal Thai air-force C-130 cargo plane
2. Cage with cinereous vultureAnakin Skywalker‘ being loaded onto plane
3. Close-up of Himalayan griffon vulture inside cage and under green net
Doi Lang, 9 May 2007
4. Wide of vulture release team at Doi Lan mountain
5. Close-up of Anakin’s beak being measured
6. Various of satellite tag being placed on Anakin’s wing
7. Media
8. Anakin being placed inside mesh cage
9. SOUNDBITE: (English) Nyambayar Batbayar, Director of the Mongolia Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre:
“By using the satellite tracking device you can learn about migration behaviour, and also foraging patterns, and also you can learn about what areas are being used by vultures.
10. Wide of British ornithologist Philip Round having photo taken beside cage of cinereous vulture
11. Close-up of Anakin
12. SOUNDBITE: (English) Philip Round, Member of the British Ornithologists and Bird Conservation Society of Thailand:
“Anakin has been almost an ambassador for vultures, you know, because historically vultures don’t have a very good reputation in Thailand. But the arrival of Anakin has really promoted a lot of interest in the fate and the conservation of vultures.
13. Close-up of Anakin
Doi Lang, 10 May 2007
14. Wide of road where vultures are being released
15. Anakin steps out of cage and joins other Himalayan griffons
16. Media taking photos
17. Anakin spreading wings
18. Media watching
19. Himalayan griffon flying away
20. SOUNDBITE: (English) Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pathology at Kasetsart University:
“When we release them in a flock, that would be easier for them to find food, because the vulture is a flocking species, so they help each other to find the food.”
21. Chaiyan releasing Anakin
22. Chaiyan watching Anakin flying through binoculars
23. Anakin flying


A rare vulture was released into the wilds of Thailand on Thursday, after bird flu fears thwarted plans to send the young bird to nesting grounds in Mongolia.

The rare cinereous vulture, nicknamed ‘Anakin Skywalker’ after a popular character in the ‘Star Wars’ movies, was released from a cage along with four Himalayan Griffon Vultures in the mountainous area in northern Thailand near the Myanmar border.

After an hour, the four brown and white Himalayan Griffons flew off, leaving the black, cinereous vulture standing alone stretching its wings.

Veterinarian Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua then picked up the cinereous vulture and threw it into the air, forcing it to fly off toward a ridge, and ending a high-level bid to return the bird to Mongolia.

Chaiyan said they released the vultures together to make it easier for them to find food.

“When we release them in a flock, that would be easier for them to find food, because vulture is a flocking species, so they help each other to find the food,” said Chaiyan.

Thursday’s release was the final attempt to send the cinereous vulture back to the wild, after plans by Thailand’s national carrier to send the bird back to Mongolia via China or South Korea were cancelled over fears of bird flu.

Anakin and the other vultures were transported from Bangkok to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand on Wednesday onboard a Thai Royal Air Force C-130 cargo plane along with a team of veterinarians, government representatives and bird enthusiasts.

From Chiang Rai, the vultures were brought directly to the mountain area of Doi Lan in Chiang Mai to get acclimatised prior to their release on Thursday.

A satellite telemetry was attached to the cinereous vulture’s wing to monitor its whereabouts.

From BirdLife:

Can we bring vultures back to Thailand?

By Dr. Boripat Siriaroonrat and Kaset Sutasha, Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, 8 Feb 2017

It’s the most dramatic bird decline ever recorded – faster even than those that robbed our planet of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius or the Dodo Raphus cucullatus. Since the 1990s, a staggering 99% of the vulture population in Asia have disappeared – a drop from several million to just a few thousand.

As a result of these steep declines, four species of Asian vulture – White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus, Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris and Indian Vulture Gyps indicus – are now assessed as being Critically Endangered – the highest threat category of all, and a status that indicates that if we do not continue to act, they will disappear from Asia’s skies within our lifetimes.

The main driver for the decline of vultures on the Indian subcontinent is well-publicised – the use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac to control pain and muscle fatigue in sick and aging cattle. Unfortunately, the drug proved lethal to vultures, who were unwittingly killed in large numbers in South Asia when they feasted on the poisoned carcasses of cattle who were left out in the open to die by herders.

Fortunately, the use of Diclofenac is now banned in India, Nepal and Pakistan, and thanks to the introduction of initiatives such as Safe Zones (areas in which threats are controlled within a 100kn radius, allowing viable populations to develop), vulture numbers are now finally stabilising on the Indian subcontinent. But why have vultures all but disappeared from other parts of Asia where Diclofenac isn’t an issue – as just as importantly, can we bring them back?

In Thailand, as in other parts of South-East Asia, Diclofenac isn’t an issue for vultures. Although the drug is widely available in pharmacies, it comes in cream and tablet forms, and is intended for human use – not for cattle. Despite this, the situation for vultures is even worse than it is in India – although two migratory species Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus and Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis, can still be spotted every winter, all three of the species that were once resident in the country (Red-headed Vulture White-rumped Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture) are now extinct in Thailand.

Of the three, the Red-headed Vulture was the most abundant and could be found right in the center of Bangkok until the late 1960s-early 1970s, when burials were not widely practiced and dead bodies were left in the open waiting to be burned.  A cholera outbreak in Bangkok in the 19th Century is immortalised by sculptures of vultures feeding on corpses at the Golden Mountain (Wat Saket), which are still standing for us to see today even if the birds themselves are not. Vultures took advantage of the dead bodies until the modernization of the country in the 20th century.  With cemeteries now becoming normal practice, vultures have struggled in the face of the reduced food availability.

Hunting, poaching and habitat destruction are also major issues for vultures in this part of the world. Red-headed vultures were last seen in Thailand’s Huay Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary 25 years ago, coinciding with a new tiger hunting method deployed by hunters which used pesticides to poison the Sambar Deer carcass – a method developed so they could obtain tiger skins without tarnishing them with bullet holes. Sadly, the very last group of about 12 red-headed vultures scavenged on one such carcass and all of them died as a result. No sightings of wild vultures in the country had been reported since. Hunting and poisoning delivered the final blow to a vulture population that struggled to adapt in the face of the vast improvements that have been made to Thailand’s health, sanitation and cattle slaughterhouse networks.

Yet, these majestic birds of prey could yet circle over Thailand once more. In June 2016, The Zoological Park Organization of Thailand (ZPO) started the formal discussion to establish a Red-headed Vulture re-introduction program at Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, in conjunction with Kasetsart University (KU), Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST). It is aimed at re-wilding the very last group of captive Red-headed Vultures from zoos, with the hope of releasing captive-bred individuals of this Critically Endangered species back to nature in 2018. But although 2018 is close, there is a long way to go to make this a reality.

ZPO are very experienced in captive breeding and re-introduction programs, having worked for several decades on re-introducing mammal and avian species such as Eld’s Deer (Cervus eldi thamin), Eastern Sarus Crane (Grus antigone antigone), Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) and more besides. But the Red-headed Vulture poses a challenge because it is very hard to breed, nest and hatch chicks in captivity.

ZPO has chosen Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO world heritage site that stretches over more than 600,000 ha along the Myanmar border, as the perfect place to reintroduce the species because of its biodiversity. The sanctuary, which is relatively intact, contain examples of almost all the forest types of continental South-East Asia. They are home to a very diverse array of animals, including 77% of the large mammals (especially elephants and tigers), 50% of the large birds and 33% of the land vertebrates to be found in this region. All of which should mean plenty of food to sustain small groups of this struggling scavenger.

According to Dr. Saksit Simcharoen, a tiger expert from DNP, there are currently 150 – 200 wild Indochinese Tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) and Indochinese Leopards (Panthera pardus delacouri) within the sanctuary. That mean there are more than 150 carcasses per week because tigers and leopards hunt at least once a week. Simcharoen believes that numbers of carcasses found in the sanctuary will be enough to support future vulture populations. It will be a long-term commitment, but the team is passionate about bringing Red-headed Vulture back to Thailand. And achieving this goal could ultimately save the bird from global extinction: when your species’ population trends are being mentioned in the same breath as the Dodo, you need every viable population you can get.

If you want to help BirdLife save vultures, please visit: www.birdlife.org/savevultures.

Black vultures at Georgia, USA owls’ nest

This video from Georgia in the USA says about itself:

Black Vultures Roost in Savannah – Feb. 5, 2017

Black Vultures commandeered the empty nest on the Great horned Owl Savannah Cam this weekend. These birds often roost in large flocks, and yesterday was no exception. Watch as they pile on the nest and surrounding areas.

Clip edited for length.

This camera livestream is a partnership between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Skidaway Audubon.

Saving vultures in Zambia

This video says about itself:

31 August 2014

Lion playing “Statues game” with vultures in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

From BirdLife:

Helping farmers create a safe haven for vultures in Zambia

By Chaona Phiri, 27 Jan 2017

When human activity in biodiverse forests is uncontrolled, the survival of plants, animals and other micro-organisms is at risk.

In a bid to secure Zambia’s Chisamba Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), a safe haven for endangered vultures, BirdWatch Zambia (BirdLife Partner) has educated farm owners, managers and workers who operate within the IBA on why it is important to protect natural habitats from man-made threats.

The Chisamba IBA in Zambia covers an area of 55,000 hectares and more than 72% of it falls within private farms. Activities like cattle ranching, game farming, dairy farming and crocodile farming attract hundreds of vultures to the farms, where the birds benefit from large trees that offer suitable perching, roosting and breeding sites. The large privately owned commercial farms also offer a safe haven for vultures that are attracted by the waste from meat processing, and the harvesting of crocodiles.

Much of the Chisamba IBA land falls within local and national forests and serves as home to Zambia’s only true endemic bird species, the Zambian Barbet Lybius chaplini. However, encroachment by human settlement, fuelwood and charcoal production are threats to conservation efforts in the area.

BirdWatch Zambia is working to secure 4,000 hectares of the Chisamba IBA for the benefit of vultures and natural ecosystems in general. They have engaged in dialogue with private farm owners in Chisamba to create a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) in the properties within the IBA. The initiative recognizes the movement of vultures from one farm to another depending on the feeding opportunity.

An education and awareness campaign around the area has also targeted school children and their parents who either own, manage or work in farms in the area. The campaign and dialogue seek to change local perceptions about vultures and also influence farm management practices.

“They [vultures] are ugly birds that spoil good meat,” said Chanda, a Chisamba secondary school child residing in a cattle ranch within the zone before attending the campaign.

After learning about the environmental importance of vultures through the project, Chanda now describes vultures as “lifesaving birds”.

Through this project, BirdWatch Zambia has established and sustained strong relationships with private land owners to facilitate consistent research on vultures and several other bird species within the area.

BirdWatch Zambia will hold a survey in 2017 to establish the population of vultures in the Chisamba IBA and perform mapping and geo-referencing of breeding sites. Tagging to improve an understanding of vulture movements is also on schedule.

Chisamba is Zambia’s closest IBA to the main city Lusaka, which is about 97km away. This proximity has made it easy for BirdWatch Zambia staff based in the city to monitor and tour the various farms.

Save Egyptian vultures

This 2016 video is called The life of the Egyptian vulture.

From BirdLife:

Saving the Egyptian Vulture – Have your say!

By Stoyan Nikolov, 24 Jan 2017

As part of the EU LIFE+ project ‘The Return of the Neophron’, a public consultation exercise on its proposed ‘Flyway Action Plan’ (EVFAP) has been launched to save the Egyptian Vulture. Stoyan Nikolov explains how – and why – citizens should take this opportunity to participate and have their say.

There was a time when the striking silhouette of the Egyptian Vulture in flight cut an impressive figure through the skies over Europe, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Now, it is listed a globally ‘endangered’ species by the IUCN Red List. The overall European population has decreased by 50% over the last 50 years, while in the Balkans, numbers have declined by 80% over the last three decades and the prospect of extinction is a very serious risk.

Egyptian Vultures from the Balkans are long distance migrants wintering in the Sahel zone of Africa, and these annual return flights are highly perilous. They have to negotiate a veritable gauntlet of challenges: electrocution by power lines and poisoned baits aimed at mammalian carnivores.  And so, in 2015, the EU LIFE+ Project ‘The Return of the Neophron’, in collaboration with the Coordinating Unit of the CMS Raptors MoU[1], initiated the development of an Egyptian Vulture Flyway Action Plan (EVFAP). As birds know no borders, the plan involves a high degree of international cooperation between countries that host breeding populations (the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus), flyways (the Middle East) and wintering grounds (Central and Eastern Africa). It is hoped that, by improving the conservation status of the species throughout the flyway, the Egyptian Vulture can soar back, first from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ and eventually to up to stable numbers of breeding pairs across its entire range.

The proposed Flyway Action Plan looks at how to counter these threats concretely and identifies key additional needs to bring the species back from the brink: long-term research and monitoring; designation of protected areas; building conservation capacity; improving exchange of information; enhanced coordination of NGO-driven initiatives; partnerships with industry (e.g. energy, agriculture); and, improving awareness-raising and publicity.

The entire process has been remarkably collaborative and inclusive from the get go. It is vital that the people – be they government officials, private sector representatives (from power companies for example), conservationists or simply concerned citizens –  who share their homelands with these magnificent raptors, see and understand just what is at stake and actively take part in saving a priceless part of their natural heritage. This is why, today, Raptors MoU has launched a month-long public consultation exercise on its draft Flyway Action Plan and has published the plan online in English, French and Russian.

The consultation opened yesterday and runs until 20 February 2017. All comments will then be reviewed and, where appropriate, integrated into the final (new and improved) version of Action Plan in March which will be implemented over the next ten years.

Stoyan Nikolov (BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria) is coordinating the development of the Egyptian Vulture Flyway Action Plan. If you have any questions, please contact him via e-mail or telephone (+359 878 599 372).You can also visit the LIFE+ Neophron website.

Readers are invited to submit comments and feedback on the EVFAP via email to: Mr Stoyan Nikolov (stoyan.nikolov@bspb.org), with a copy to the Coordinating Unit (cmsoffice.ae@cms.int).

[1] CMS Raptors MoU (The Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia) is an international, legally non-binding agreement to protect migratory birds of prey.  Its Egyptian Vulture Flyway Action Plan (EVFAP) will form a key component of the wider ongoing Multi-species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP).

Black vultures in love, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

12 January 2017

A pair of Black Vultures mating is transformed into a beautiful abstract art film! Filming the birds above on a levee bank with the harsh winter mid-day sun shining right behind them, the total blackness of the birds, sharp horizon and puffy clouds as a backdrop results in a shadow dance.

Saving Saudi Arabia’s vultures

This video says about itself:

4 June 2008

This bearded vulture has developed an incredibly cunning method of eating carcass bone marrow – although patience is a virtue as this bone breaking technique can take seven years to perfect! Another amazing nature video from the wild African desert. From the BBC.

From BirdLife:

Saving the vultures of Saudi Arabia

By Dr. Mohammad Shobraq, 21 Dec 2016

An overview of the vulture species that nest in Saudi Arabia, the threats they are facing and what BirdLife is doing to help them.

Vultures are one of the most threatened families of birds in the entire world and their decline has been shockingly rapid. Some species in Africa and the Indian subcontinent have declined by over 95% in the last few decades, a rate faster than even that of the Passenger Pigeon or Dodo.

The biggest driver of these declines is human impact; either by poisoning (either intentional or otherwise) or from persecution. As a result, many old world vultures are now Critically Endangered – meaning they are at risk of going extinct in our lifetimes.

And while vultures may not be the most sympathetic-looking of birds, these efficient scavengers are vital in preventing the spread of disease, locating and picking clean carcasses before disease spores can develop. Thus, their demise leads to economic, social and environmental problems.
How do vulture declines affect humans?

Vulture populations are currently collapsing at an unsustainable rate across Africa and the Middle East, largely due to poisoning – either as an unintentional consequence of farmers lacing cattle carcasses with poison to deter predators from livestock, or more intractably, intentionally, as poachers poison elephant carcasses to kill vultures, as the sight of circling vultures overhead alerts authorities to the poachers’ illegal activities.

Their decline mirrors that of an earlier decline of vultures on the Indian subcontinent, which occurred due to widespread use of a veterinary drug, diclofenac, which proved toxic to vultures. What subsequently happened in the Indian subcontinent should serve as a reminder to humanity of the importance of vultures to the ecosystem.

In this region, poisoning saw vulture numbers plummet from approximately 40 million in the nineties to up to about 10,000 individuals in 2003, which led to an increase in poverty and unemployment in India, where villagers used to clean the bones by feeding bone tissue to vultures, then grinding them and selling them once again as Calcium powder for the agriculture industry.

In addition to this, the disappearance of the vultures led to health problems due to an increase in the numbers of stray dogs, which moved in to take the place vacated by vultures in the food chain.

A study has estimated that the numbers of stray dogs surged by 5.5 million between 1992 and 2003. This rise in numbers led to a spread of rabies in rural areas until it became one of the most deadly diseases in India in recent years, with the number of dog bite casualties reaching about 40 million cases between 1992 and 2006. This in turn led to the increase of funds spent on covering health and social problems.

It is estimated that the associated health costs absorbed by the Indian government as a result of the decline of vultures between 1993 and 2006 amounts to US$34 billion.

In Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the number of vultures have declined significantly. Of the five species recorded in the region, all are threatened; some at a local level, the rest on a global scale.

Lappet-faced Vulture

The Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus is one of the species that nests in the kingdom; but unlike the others, which lay their eggs on mountain slopes, the Lappet-faced Vulture builds its nests on trees. The kingdom contains the largest number of Lappet-faced Vultures of all the countries in its range in the region. Recent studies show that this species has disappeared from the Levant and its numbers have decreased in some areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula – therefore it is now categorized as Endangered. The Lappet-faced Vulture has a powerful beak, which can cut the skin of dead animals.

Griffon Vulture

The Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus nests in mountain slopes along the Sarawat Mountains (Western Arabian Peninsula) and the mountains of Aja and Salma (Ha’il Region) and Tuwaiq Mountain (Plateau of Nejd). Additionally, migratory flocks arrive from Central Asia, Palestine and Iraq.

Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus is also locally known as Al Alia by the people of the desert, and it has an old Arabic name, Al Anouk. Although it is known to nest in the kingdom. some migratory flocks arrive in order to spend the winter there, and some of them pass by the country during their journey to reach their wintering areas in Africa.

Bearded Vulture

Numbers of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetys barbatus have decreased in recent years and it is now endangered at the regional level (the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant). It may no longer nest in the kingdom.

Cinereous Vulture

The fifth species, Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, is a migratory bird that arrives in autumn to spend the winter in Saudi Arabia.

Why are vultures declining?

To identify the causes of the deaths of vultures in the world, I would like to start mentioning the main reason, which drew the world’s attention to this issue, behind the decline in numbers of these birds in the Indian continent which was the use of human medicine to treat animals.

Studies carried out by biologists and veterinary doctors showed that the cause of the deaths, after analyzing many samples of dead vultures, was the use of the Diclofenac by livestock owners used to ease the pain of the cattle. When cattle dies, vultures feed on them, leading to kidney failure and death. The use of Diclofenac is now banned in India.

Unfortunately, despite the knowledge of this problem in many countries, the medicine is still used in European vulture-range countries such as Italy and Spain.

There is a strong opposition by environmental organizations, including BirdLife, to stop the use of this medicine to protect European vultures populations.

As previously mentioned, poisoning is also a major threat to vultures. In Africa, some large farm owners put poison in carcasses to kill lions and hyenas – vultures then swoop in to feast on the carcass and are also killed.

In recent years, illegal elephant and rhinoceros poachers have started poisoning animal carcasses in order to kill vultures. Vultures use their incredible sight to swiftly recognize the location of fresh carcasses, and the sight of circling vultures can alert the guards of the poachers’ location.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, scientific studies conducted by researchers from the Saudi Wildlife Authority indicate that a huge number of deaths of vultures come as a result of poisoning.

Another reason that has led to the deterioration of the number of vultures in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world is pesticide spraying. Vultures, despite their stomachs’ impressive ability to digest the tissue of the animal that has died as a result of viral or bacterial diseases, are vulnerable to the toxic chemicals used in insect eradication. Deaths of Griffon Vultures have been recorded in Saudi Arabia in regions where pesticides are used to control populations of desert locust.

Other causes of the deterioration are disturbances to nesting sites, especially those that nest in trees like the Lappet-faced vulture.

Compounding these issues, vultures are late bloomers; the Egyptian vulture doesn’t reach maturity until it is three, and others reach it at the age of 11 years, such as the Lappet-faced Vulture. It also tends to only lay one egg at a time, so it can take struggling vulture populations a long time to bounce back even after rigorous conservation work.

The incubation period for the chick lasts between 9-12 months, meaning that the reproductive period, for certain types such as the Lappet-faced Vulture, requires a significant effort by the parents. Therefore, the inconvenience of nesting disturbances can affect the reproduction of these birds and might lead in lack of production thus resulting in a decrease in their numbers.

Finally, another threat is poorly-planned powerlines, windfarms and roads, which result in the death of thousands of vultures across Europe and Asia every year.

BirdLife will continue to work together with key organizations to develop a multi-species action plan for vultures that defines clear conservation and management actions for all threatened vultures.

Why vultures can eat dead animals

This video from the USA says about itself:

Why Vultures Don’t Get Sick When Eating Dead and Rotting Things

In the video today we’re looking at why vultures can happily eat various dead and rotting things, even when said flesh is disease ridden, all without apparent negative effect on themselves.