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Tracking bearded vultures in Nepal – new research project by Tulsi Subedi

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Bearded vultures occur from Western Europe to China, and from North Africa to the mountains of Southern Africa, with two subspecies, one occurring in Eurasia, the other one in Africa south of the Sahara.

The VCF has been leading the conservation of this species in Europe, notably reintroducing or restocking it in different sites (Alps-Andalusia-Grands Causses-Corsica), and the populations here are very well known and adequately monitored. Several projects are also dealing with the threats, so overall this species is increasing in Europe and expanding its range – but little is known about bearded vultures further east, so a new research study on bearded vultures in the Himalayas is a very welcome development. The VCF has recently met Tulsi Subedi, a Nepalese PhD student who is now studying this species in Nepal, who gave us this account:

The bearded Vulture is a vulnerable species in Nepal and presumed to have <500 individuals in the middle and high Himalayan habitat across the country, with a concentration along the Annapurna Himalayan Range. Although several studies have been conducted in Europe and South Africa on this species, little is known about the movement ecology of the Himalayan birds, therefore I have started in 2014 an ambitious project focused on this species. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first ever project on bearded vulture in the Asian range using GPS transmitters. The major objectives of this project are to provide quantitative information on the movement ecology of the species and to investigate the threats to bearded vultures in the Himalayan habitat. Although the concept was developed in 2014, it took time to make this project start, and then to start fieldwork – I could trap the first bearded vulture in Nepal to attach a GSM transmitter on 17 May 2016. Currently transmitters have been attached on 9 individuals (4 adults and 5 juveniles), including one entire family, those providing details to unfold the mystery of their movement patterns. I hope the results of my study will be used to prepare a bearded vulture conservation and management plan in Nepal.  

Initial results show that some high-altitude individuals perform frequent transboundary movements between Nepal and China, which suggests the need for a multinational conservation approach. Data also revealed that they fly above the altitude of 7500 m over the Himalayan Mountains and most probably nest above the snow line of 5500 m. Also, we suspect that some rural electrification powerlines could be lethal for these birds in the mountainous area of Nepal, and will be looking into this.          

Currently I am a PhD student at the Universiti Sains Malaysia and conducting this project as part of my PhD. I would like to thank the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies – Malaysia, The World Academy of Sciences – Italy, The Rufford Foundation – UK, The Peregrine Fund – USA, Korea Institute of Environment Ecology – Korea and Savanah Tracking – Kenya for their financial and equipment support to make this project possible. I also thank my supervisors, Prof. Shahrul Anuar Mohd Sah, Dr. Munir Virani and Dr. Hem Sagar Baral. I thank Dr. Hansoo Lee and Henrik Rasmussen for providing the GSM transmitters and Simon Thomsett and Sandesh Gurung to their field support.

Contact Email: Tulsi.biologist@gmail.com

Photos : Robert deCandido, Tulsi Subedi

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