Friday, 25 February 2011
I am so very glad to be home, I am not a natural traveller and although it is interesting to see other countries, I happen to love my own more! We arrived in India on Monday morning, valentines day! the flight was uneventful, which is always good, we then tidied up at the hotel in Delhi before getting onto the train to Kalka, which is the nearest train station to Pinjore the home of the first of the vulture breeding centres in India. Some of the group did not make it to the train having been held up in Kathmandu on the plane, so they arrived very late by taxi. I have to say I did not envy them the trip having done three taxi trips to and from Pinjore, two in the dark and if you enjoy being terrified out of your wits for six hours, being unable to unclasp your hand from the handle above your head because you have been hanging on so tightly, and spending the next four hours awake unwinding from the constant adrenalin surges – it is exactly the trip you need. However I was told that the road is much improved and so far less scary (I am not sure I believe it, but it all makes for exciting trips away!)

The following day it was raining!! Home from home, although actually I should not say that because contrary to popular belief, it does not permanently rain at home, indeed far from it. We saw some of the improvements at the Vulture Breeding Centre, and they were extensive and very good, and I quickly saw the first clutch of vulture chicks in the brooder room, what a pleasure, and how very satisfying to have been involved with this project from the very beginning and see this excellent result. We returned to the hotel in Pinjore, where we started on meetings. The beginnings of many meetings, which was of course the main purpose of the trip, to have meetings and launch SAVE.

We did manage a second visit to the centre the following day to see the new individual aviaries being built to try putting individual pairs together rather than the colony aviary. They were coming on nicely. We ended the day with completion of the first meeting and a round table, which I think achieved most what we needed to discuss.

Back to Delhi on the Shatabati train and then the following day, I wrote up the minutes of the Pinjore meetings and others had various other meetings prior to the launch of SAVE. This acronym stands for Save Asian Vultures from Extinction. The Minister for the Environment of India came to the meeting which was good, and many other people. Professor Ian Newton, who is probably the most respected raptor scientist worldwide is chairman of SAVE and he plus various others gave a number of talks, ending with Tim Stowe the director of International programmes. One gentleman, however blindsided us all and his presentation was disgraceful, he showed photos of vultures, unfortunately he appears not to be very good at vulture identification and so none of the birds in his photos were in fact any of the highly endangered species! He then went on to say that the way to save vultures was to save and protect areas. Apparently he failed completely to understand the diclofenac problem and was advocating working on protected areas. It was probably the most unprofessional behaviour I have ever seen at any public meeting, and his group should be ashamed of his behaviour, I certainly would be if he worked for me, although I suspect he would not be working for me for very long! I and a couple of other members of our team were absolutely furious and I was in great need of a very large gin and tonic at that point. However I was told that most of the audience probably did not notice. Let us hope so as he obviously did it on purpose and it could have been very undermining.

Next stop Nepal, via Kathmandu. We all flew to Kathmandu and were collected by the Nepal team and a large people carrier and drove to Chitwan National Park. If you want to see some lovely countryside Chitwan was it, if you want to be depressed beyond belief drive there round the Kathmandu ring road and then through the mountains. I guess India is probably as bad, at least all the places that I have seen. But somehow this was sad in the extreme. I had by this time got a cold which did not help, but to see on both the trip there and back, what had been stunning scenery so ruined by us humans had a huge impact on me. I think I am going to become obsessive about plastic now because everywhere there were humans there were huge amount of rubbish, 90% of which was plastic of some kind. Where the mountains were very very steep, beyond where the land could be utalised, it was stunningly beautiful, where the land was physically possible to fell the trees and cultivate, and that was still pretty steep, the trees were stripped away and the land either terraced, or just dug up, most of it must end up in the river below in the rains. Where there was enough room to build a house or shop or shack all along the route, which was 6 hours of driving, there were people, and as soon as there were people, there was rubbish, mounds and mounds of it.

We got to our hotel late that night, the next morning we were all up early, looking at birds (we had some very very serious bird watchers in the group – not sure about them!!!! There is obsession and obsession!). Then all climbed into the van and off to the vulture breeding Centre, which was about a two hour drive along some interesting roads to say the least. The vulture breeding centre is in the national park and next to the garial breeding complex and I believe a turtle breeding place as well, so it is well placed. We saw the Centre and the aviaries, which are great, had tea – we had tea everywhere! Andrew Routh who is wonderful and is the chief vet at ZSL and I had a look at a couple of birds, one of which the staff were worried about and one of which had had a problem but was obviously on the mend. The staff here are very new to vultures and so are doing a good job, but lack the experience that they now have in India, although it must be remembered that six years ago, we had the same inexperience in India and now, we are removing first eggs, double clutching, hatching and rearing chicks, the whole business, in only six years.

We had the chance to see the garial breeding centre as well, where they collect eggs from the wild, hatch and rear them, they are amazing looking creatures I liked them much better than alligators, but that is probably because they are fish eaters and don’t eat Labradors!! Off we went again in the vehicle this time to the Vulture Safe Zone, where the various teams of people in Nepal have organised a 100 kilometre diclofenac free zone so that vultures are relatively safe from picking it up in dead cattle, unless they fly further afield, which sadly we know by our first radio tracking that some of them do. As in many parts of the vultures range, cattle are a huge part of the locals beliefs and religions, these groups have started cow rescue centres where the farmers can sell their worn out cattle and they are cared for (in many cases they have a better life then they had before!) and fed and receive veterinary treatment until they die. At no time however do they get any untested or dangerous NSAID’s which are the drugs responsible for killing the vultures, Diclofenac being one, but others may well be as toxic to the birds. Once they die, they are taken to the feeding area for the vultures, which is a little outside the village. All the village is involved. Some care for the cattle, some provide the food, there are other projects that are funded by the VSZ funding to help to local area, and at the VSZ that we went to they have an education centre and they have built a hide so that the feeding vultures can be seen by people who are interested, and they charge for this, which again helps the local people. It’s a brilliant concept, takes huge amounts of effort and seems to be working. Plenty of vultures now know of the sites and are coming in and the breeding of vultures in the immediate area seems to be increasing, although that may be for other reasons, that we do not yet know. We then had a quiet morning and an elephant ride!! We saw a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle and a whole load of LBJ’s that the bird watchers got excited about, and four Indian Rhino’s which everyone got excited about. Then it was back to Kathmandu for the Nepal Launch of Save. This went very well, and both the people from the Nepalese government had obviously learnt about the topic and actually offered support and interest, which I have to say is rather more than the Indian Launch provided. Well done them.

During the meeting I managed to get a cold which then turned into a cough and then I lost my voice, which is not exactly useful when you are at meetings and need to talk, so sounding like a complete idiot I whispered my way through about four meetings, hoping that it would recover by the time I got home. It hasn’t!! But yesterday the weather was glorious, the crocuses are fully out, the snowdrops are nearly over, the daffodils will be out soon, we had lots of visitors yesterday and I went for a ride on Henry today which was very much more exciting than planned, but I stayed on!!
Now we concentrate on our breeding season and it has started well, which is excellent news.



I have to say that keeping a weblog can at times become compulsive and at other times a chore. Sometimes I am berrated for not keeping it up and sometimes I get wonderful comments from people who follow the news of the Centre.

It is fun to share the daily goings on here, some good and some bad, some funny and some sad, but all a part of our daily lives.
And as I said before its a pretty cool to be here and it is a great place to visit, you should try coming and watching the birds and meeting the staff and of course the dogs.

An interesting video on Lead

An interesting video on Lead

I find it staggering that people who want to hunt don't see the value in changing their ammunition from lead to a safer product. We have stopped using lead in petrol, in paint, in our water pipes, but they still want to use lead - ah well, apparently eating it not only kills birds but leads to reduced intelligence in humans......................

NO ONE is asking you to stop legal and genuine hunting, they are just asking you to change your ammunition!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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