Vultures or Magnificent Clean Flyers

  • By Naing Lin (WCS)
  • P 15 1 copy

As the Myanmar literature itself is now more than 1000 years old, it is no wonder that the language is rich in proverbs, maxims and sayings.
As a rule, Myanmar people tend to illustrate many sayings and proverbs in their daily conversation, and these customs have been handed down from generation to generation in Myanmar. These sayings are presumably food for thoughts and words of wisdom which can make a lively conversation in the daily life of the people.
Traditionally, Myanmar people are a great believer in mythology and omen, they regard the vultures as “disgusting birds” associated with death and decay. In some parts of the country, vultures are caught and killed for no obvious reason but ’fun’.
Now that vulture populations have reached very low levels, destruction of nesting colonies, hunting and accidental poisoning appear to be the most immediate threats to the remaining birds.
Actually, vultures are magnificent birds that not only fulfill a vital function in our ecosystem, but are part of our culture and traditional beliefs. The vulture is used by several fictional super villains who are appearing in comic books for children.

Population of Vultures in Myanmar
It is estimated that the population of vultures in Myanmar is at least 136 individuals, made up of at least: 62 White-ramped Vultures, 21 Slender-billed Vultures, 51 Himalayan Vultures and two Red-headed Vultures. Myanmar presents an opportunity of global significance for vulture conservation, due to the persistence of endangered vulture species in a country where diclofenac is not used.

In Southeast Asia
In Southeast Asia, the near-total disappearance of white-trumped vultures predated the present diclofenac crisis, and probably resulted from the collapse of large wild ungulate populations and improved management of dead livestock, resulting in a lack of available carcasses for vultures.

Feeding Vultures
Vultures rarely attack healthy animals, but may kill the wounded or sick. When a carcass has too thick a hide for its beak to open, it waits for a larger scavenger to eat first. Vast numbers have been seen upon battlefields. They gorge themselves when prey is abundant, until their crops bulge, and sit, sleepy or half torpid, to digest their food. These birds do not carry food to their young in their talons but disgorge it from their crops.

Biodiversity is of great crucial to harmonize nature with its need for human in a sustainable fashion, and to restore and maintain a healthy planet. The basic goals include conservation of nature, primarily biological diversity through actions based on surveys and research, partnership, network building, environmental education and public awareness. It means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems.
Myanmar is a country located at the junction of three different eco-regions; Sino-Himalayan region in the north, Indochinese region in the east and Malayan peninsular in the south. This significant geo-position together with high variations in rainfall, temperature, topography and extensive river systems create diverse forest types in Myanmar, from sub-alpine forest in the north to tropical rain forest in the south.
Varied forest types are home of numerous flora and fauna that consist of more than 11,820 plant species, 252 mammals, 1056 birds, 293 reptiles, 139 amphibians, 775 fresh & marine water fishes, five marine turtles, and 52 coral species. Therefore, Myanmar has been recognized as one of the biodiversity richest countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition, Myanmar has recorded several endemic species that consists of one mammal species, 22 reptile species, six amphibians, six bird species and eight plant species.

Biodiversity in Myanmar
Biodiversity is under serious threat as a result of human activities. The main dangers being population growth and resource consumption, climate change and global warming, habitat conversion and urbanization, invasive alien species, over-exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation.
In Myanmar Primary threats identified included the commercial and subsistence exploitation and trade of natural resources including wildlife, timber, fish and non-timber forest products. Stakeholders also highlighted the expansion of the human footprint across the country.
To assess the historical and current status and distribution of Gyps and Sarcogyps species in Myanmar, published literature and unpublished reports were collated, and unpublished sightings were collected from observers known to have recently visited the country.
Areas for field survey were selected where there had been records from the last 12 years, regardless of historical records or recent survey effort. Kachin State, Sagaing Division, Shan State and Chin State were selected. Across these administrative divisions, surveys were conducted across the northern part of the country. Sites were chosen for their contribution to overall geographic coverage, complementarity to recent surveys, relative accessibility. All sites were situated at least 50 km apart in an effort to reduce (albeit not necessarily eliminate) double-counting of birds among sites. From these surveys absolute minimum population estimates for each species were generated by summing the maximum number of adults and sub-adults at any one restaurant.

Taking surveys
The surveys revealed that populations of these species are larger than the minimum population estimates of 62, 20 and two respectively derived from the survey (e.g. four years earlier, 78 White-rumpled Vultures were seen together in southern Shan State. It was not possible to visit all possible locations during the surveys, the team received information on vulture sightings from areas not surveyed, which may relate to additional individuals.
In short, there have been significant declines in both populations and range of resident vulture species in Myanmar since historical times. Vulture populations in Myanmar therefore present a great opportunity to conserve diclofenac-free populations of three Critically Endangered vulture species. To retain these as viable populations, it is of global importance that the research and conservation interventions proposed in the Myanmar vulture action plan are implemented in the next few years.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation is closely cooperating with other ministries and departments to conserve and manage Myanmar’s biodiversity. Moreover the government has taken concerted efforts in order to rehabilitate forests and biodiversity in degraded watersheds and forests in the country.

Translated by
Win Ko Ko Aung

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