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Vultures And People: Local Perceptions Of A Low-density Vulture Population In The Eastern Mid-hills Of Nepal

Sunita Phuyal, Hemant R. Ghimire, Karan B. Shah, Hem S. Baral

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The cause for rapid decline of the South Asian vulture population in 1990s was unknown for many years until diclofenac was proved to be the main reason for such decline in 2004.  The vulture populations from Nepal has also undergone rapid decline that causes low awareness among people about its ecological importance.  For declining species that have large range and are mostly associated with humans, people’s attitudes can have direct effects on their survival because of the multiple linkages and potential for both positive and negative impacts of human behaviour for these large scavengers.  However, little is known about vultures in the eastern mid-hills of Nepal.  Therefore, we conducted a study in Ramechhap, a district in the eastern mid-hills of Nepal, to assess the vultures’ status and human relations using transect and questionnaire surveys respectively.  Himalayan Griffons Gyps himalayensis and Egyptian Vultures Neophron percnopterus were found in the area, and the majority of respondents interviewed had a positive attitude towards vultures (58.8%) and their conservation (47.3%).  Although neglected in previous studies, a neutral attitude (20% towards vultures and 15.8% towards vulture conservation) can be significant (largely related to ignorance) and can be readily turned to negative due to the vulture’s carcass consuming behaviour and lack of conventional appeal to many people, with implications for the success of a conservation programme.  In our study, carcass scarcity appeared to be an increasing concern with about 90% of the respondents reporting burying cattle carcasses, and that this practice has recently increased.  In the course of the study period, however, two (unburied) carcasses were observed.  Our study found that nimesulide, a potentially toxic NSAID for vultures, was used for veterinary purpose in the study area, which could be a serious threat to vultures.  Other human activities such as carcass poisoning pose threats to vultures in the study area.  Therefore, for long term vulture conservation, local attitudes and behaviour should be considered along with ecological aspects of vultures.