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Geotagging to Track Vultures in Panna Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh

During the winters of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, a team of veterinarians from the Wildlife Institute of India worked with professional trappers, resident veterinary officers, and PTR park officials to tag vultures as part of the Landscape Management Plan project.

Shivam Dwivedi
Vultures in Panna Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh
Vultures in Panna Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh

Around two dozen vultures in Madhya Pradesh's Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) were tagged with GPS devices about a month ago as part of a scientific exercise to monitor vulture movement in order to better understand the species' behaviour in the protected area.

"We have tagged 25 vultures so far – 13 Indian vultures, 8 Himalayan griffon vultures, 2 Eurasian griffon vultures, and 2 king vultures," Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Ramesh Krishnamurthy informed. "These vultures were captured using a variety of methods, including a walk-in enclosure, a leg-hold trap, and a claptrap." "These were well-established traditional methods that had proven successful across the country for tagging a variety of migratory birds, including vultures," he explained. Among the tagged vultures is the critically endangered Indian vulture (Gyps indicus).

During the winters of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, a team of veterinarians from the Wildlife Institute of India worked with professional trappers, resident veterinary officers, and PTR park officials to tag vultures as part of the Landscape Management Plan project.

Preparation, capturing, tagging, measuring, and releasing were all part of the process. Every day, the team would arrive at the field before sunrise, set up traps, and wait for the birds, according to Krishnamurthy, who added, "Sometimes vultures come to the trap station, but on other occasions, they do not." They eventually managed to capture the birds, which had to be handled carefully due to their size and fragility.

Among the difficulties encountered by the team was the fact that the baiting stations they set up for the vultures attracted other wildlife, including tigers, which deterred the vultures, who took longer to come to the bait, according to Krishnamurthy.

Finally, the captured vultures were fitted with advanced GPS tags known as e-ObsTags. The tags, which are made in Germany, are solar-powered and weigh between 25 and 75 g, which is quite light in comparison to the birds, which weigh more than 12 kg, according to an official.

According to Krishnamurthy, the tags were programmed to collect and store data before transmitting it whenever they came into contact with a transmission link. "It is a GSM-based tag, and data is transmitted when the birds take flight and soar," he added. Furthermore, it collects data every five minutes, allowing for fine-scale data as well as elevation, temperature, and activity."

Because the tagging included both resident and migratory vultures, the movement data will allow wildlife conservationists to observe the vultures' feeding and roosting locations. This information, in turn, assists the team in planning conservation and protection interventions in areas where vultures face threats.

The GPS tags function similarly to smartwatches that humans use in their daily routines such as jogging and exercise, according to Dibyendu Biswas, WII's Junior Research Fellow. Similarly, to how smartwatches tell us how long we've run, how many steps we've taken, and so on, GPS tags tell us about vulture behaviour, he says.

Vulture tagging will assist wildlife conservationists in obtaining detailed information about vulture movement, daily behaviour such as the way vultures drink water and interact with one another, adaptability to new areas of movement, and how they secure such new areas of movement.

These details will aid in the development of a better understanding of the conservation of the species that provide invaluable ecosystem services by improving the flow of nutrients within food webs and reducing infectious disease transmission through the removal of carrion.

"Madhya Pradesh has gotten good results in the conservation of vulture species," says Uttam Kumar Sharma, Director of Panna National Park (PNP). The number of vultures (in the state) has risen to 9,446 by 2021." According to a press release from the park, India has nine species of vultures, three of which are critically endangered, and seven of the total species are found in PNP. Migratory species such as the Himalayan griffon vulture, Eurasian griffon vulture, and Cinereous vulture can be found in PNP, as can resident species such as the Indian vulture, white-rumped vulture, red-headed vulture, and Egyptian vulture.

Since the catastrophic decline of vultures at the end of the last century, telemetry-based research has become critical for understanding these birds' movement patterns. This includes migration, foraging, roosting, nesting, bathing, and other behaviours, all of which are critical for their conservation, especially since these birds require large areas for survival, such as human spaces and carcass dumps. According to the current scientific literature, 14 vulture species have been tagged and studied in 24 countries, but none from India.

The current study will collect baseline data on these activities on a spatiotemporal scale. Furthermore, haematological and microbiological analysis of the collected samples will aid in determining the overall health status of the individuals and, to a lesser extent, the health of the vulture populations in and around the reserve. All of the current study's findings will have significant policy implications, as they will fill existing knowledge gaps and contribute to adaptive management of these raptors in the Greater Panna Landscape.

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