Rare Vulture Returns to Cambodian Skies

March 18, 2009

After nearly dying from eating a poisoned animal carcass, a critically endangered white-rumped vulture was nursed back to health by wildlife veterinarians and conservationists from WCS and Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity.

After nearly dying from eating a poisoned animal carcass, a critically ill, endangered white-rumped vulture has been returned to the skies of Cambodia. The bird was nursed back to health by wildlife veterinarians and conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB).

The story is a small victory in a region where several species of vultures have become endangered due to a variety of causes. “Vulture populations across Asia have plummeted,” said Hugo Rainey, WCS technical advisor to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. “Every bird that we can save is important not only for vulture species, but for the ecosystems that rely on these birds as critical scavengers.”

Researchers responded to the poisoning incident in the Stung Treng province of Cambodia, where vultures were feeding on a dead buffalo. Seven of the white-rumped vultures died, and local officials from the Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment sent two sick birds—an adult and a juvenile—to WCS personnel in Phnom Penh for veterinary care. The birds were then sent to ACCB for rehabilitation. The use of poison for hunting and fishing is not unusual in the region.

The adult vulture recovered quickly, and the two organizations prepared it for release by tagging both wings and banding one leg, enabling researchers to identify the bird at a distance. Once released, the bird flew into a nearby tree and was later seen feeding on a cattle carcass with other vultures.

“All of our observations indicate that this vulture has made a complete recovery and hopefully will help perpetuate the species,” said WCS veterinarian Dr. Priscilla Joyner.

The juvenile bird continues to be cared for by rehabilitators.

With a range stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam, the white-rumped vulture was once considered one of the most abundant large birds of prey in the world. As a result of its precipitous population decline, the bird has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List since 2000 along with three other vulture species.

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