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Researchers tracking endangered scavengers

Researchers tracking endangered scavengers

Wildlife researchers have fitted satellite tracking devices to three critically

endangered vultures in northeast Cambodia, giving boffins new insight into the

habits of the large scavengers.

Birdlife International and the Wildlife

Conservation Society (WCS) trapped seven vultures in Chhep district of Preah

Vihear province.

Of those seven, two slender-billed vultures and one

white-rumped vulture were fitted with satellite transmitter units provided by

the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Birdlife in the UK). Two

threatened red-headed vultures were also caught.

Samples were taken from

all seven birds before they were wing-tagged, leg-banded and released.

"By fixing satellite transmitters and monitoring vulture movements, we

develop a greater understanding of their range size, habitat preferences, and

seasonal movements. This increased understanding of ecological parameters allows

us to develop more effective, targeted conservation actions and management

guidelines," said Dr Sean Austin, manager of Birdlife International's Cambodia

Programme, in a statement released July 1.

Maps of the tagged vultures

from May 2005 show that all three birds left the trapping area soon after

capture and settled quite close to each other, approximately 80km to east.

Vultures are examples of what conservationists call "dispersed species".

They range at low population densities over large areas in search of food. The

hunting of Cambodia's wild ungulates has greatly reduced the availability of

food for the vultures, forcing them to forage over wider areas, which in turn

increases their vulnerability.

In addition to the slender-billed and

white-rumped vultures, the Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus) is presently considered

critically endangered.

In India the population has decreased by more

than 97% since 1993, and Pakistan is losing 30 to 40 percent of its vultures

annually.

Research has revealed that these dramatic declines are caused

by veterinary use of the drug diclofenac, widely used when treating livestock.

If South Asian populations of these species diminish completely, only two small,

wild populations of white-rumped and slender-billed vultures will remain, one in

north Cambodia and southern Laos, and the other in Myanmar.

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