By Paul Fernandes
PANAJI: Just two of 15 critically endangered bird species mentioned in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) latest list were sighted by birders in Goa in recent years, but now no longer are these seen.
IUCN has included 15 bird species in India as critically endangered (CR) in its red list of birds (2013). "Indian vulture and white-backed vulture are the only two species from this list of 15 that were being sighted in Goa till a few years ago," Goa bird conservation network (GBCN) state coordinator Parag Rangnekar said.
Birders and tourists regularly enjoyed watching both species on the branches of a couple of huge trees or at spots in Usgao. The spot outside the backyard of Goa meat complex was another regular haunt for the magnificent birds. "Several vehicles carrying bird watchers used to be parked here and they waited with their cameras and scopes for a sighting of the birds," Rangnekar said.
Goa has a rich bird life with over 450 documented species, and the presence of the rare birds facing extinction globally, added to Goa's tourism profile in the 1990s and beyond. "Initially, we used to assure tourists of a guaranteed sighting of vultures," excursion operator Joseph Barreto said.
The overnight hinterland excursions provide tourists an all-in-one trip with visits to lakes, wetlands and other natural spots. "If they were not seen in the trees or outside the meat complex backyard scavenging on animal waste dumped after slaughtering the cattle, one could still see them flying around," Barreto said.
The few birds started disappearing from the area just over a decade ago. The scientific disposal of the waste at GMC probably cut of their access to easy food. Birders in the state almost believe that they are locally extinct. "A few vultures were being seen in Chorla Ghat till about five years ago, but after that there have been no more reports," Rangnekar said.
Two students claimed spotting an Indian vulture on a tree near Dabal from a Curchorem-bound bus. "As there is no photographic evidence, this claim cannot be accepted as valid even if it is true," a GBCN member said.
The other birds in the list have not been sighted in Goa. "They are non-migratory wetland species, forest or grassland species," a birder said.
A decade and half ago, the two vulture species could be seen in hundreds in some places. "Now there is a small population of white backed vultures in Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad districts. In the rest of India, they are left in small pockets," Indian bird conservation network (IBCN) project manager Raju Kasambe said.
The Bombay natural history society has been carrying out captive breeding, largely of three species in Assam, Haryana and West Bengal in association with the respective state forest departments and UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Critically endangered bird species in India
Migratory birds: Baer's Pochard, Siberian Crane and Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Non-migratory wetland species: White-bellied Heron
Grassland species: Bengal Florican, Great Indian Bustard, Jerdon's Courser and Sociable Lapwing
Forest species: Forest Owlet
Scavengers: Indian Vulture, Red-headed Vulture, White-backed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture have been categorized as critically endangered species in India
Himalayan Quail and Pink-headed Duck are considered extinct for all practical purposes