Once found in large numbers in Tamil Nadu, the Egyptian vulture is now almost extinct (PIc. Courtesy arulagam.org)
Inquisitive nature and passion for conservation, has made Subbiah Bharathidasan stand out among the wildlife enthusiasts and today he is in the forefront of saving vultures through his NGO, Arulagam.
These birds are one of the best friends of human beings as they keep the environment clean by feeding on dead animals.
A member of the Bombay Natural History Society, Bharathidasan describes himself as a self-taught man, who gained knowledge about vultures, including their habitats and lifestyle, through books.
Along with BNHS he conducted a survey of vultures in Tamil Nadu and the results were shocking. Earlier four species of these birds were commonly found in the State, including White-rumped vulture, Long-billed vulture, Egyptian vulture and Red-headed vulture. Of these the Egyptian is almost extinct while the other three are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
At present vultures as per Bharathidasan are confined to the Western Ghats region of the State, like Bhavanisagar, Thalamalai and Sirumugai and the neighbouring Kerala and Karnataka. In all about 200 vultures are left in Tamil Nadu now.
The widespread use of Diclofenac, a veterinary drug given to cattle, acts as poison for vultures when they feed on cattle carcasses. Other chemicals, insecticides and pesticides present in the rodents and animals they eat also harm them.
Arulagam makes farmers aware of this and convinces them not to poison the cattle they lose to tigers and leopards while compensating them for their loss. They also work with cattle owners to leave cattle not treated with banned drugs as feed for the vultures around their habitats.
Bharathidasan for his efforts was honoured with Biodiversity Hotspot Hero Award in 2016 at the International Union of Conservation of Nature in Hawaii. He is also a member of the State-level committee on vulture conservation.
Bharathidasan’s objective is to establish a safe zone for vultures and ensure that what they feed on is safe. He also wants rescue centres and captive breeding to preserve these birds.