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July 11, 2010

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Home » Feature » Animal Planet

Vultures fall prey to captivity, habitat woes

RAPTORS rank high on the food chain, playing an irreplaceable role in keeping the ecological balance. Beijing is habitat to lots of raptors as well as an important stop on their annual migration. But with China's high-speed urbanization, their natural habitat is shrinking rapidly which may lead to insufficient food supply. Bad weather even causes more challenges to their migration as raptors may suffer from malnutrition, weakness and dehydration.

"We are happy that many people will contact IFAW BRRC (International Fund for Animal Welfare Beijing Raptor Rescue Center) at the earliest time possible when they find injured and sick raptors," said IFAW China program manager Hua Nin. "But raptors still are being kept illegally as pets by some people. Illegal captivity not only brings great harm to the birds physically but also deprives them of their opportunity to return to the wildness."

According to statistics from IFAW BRRC, 29 percent of the birds they've saved had been kept illegally.

Vultures are the largest raptors that can be seen in Beijing areas. Recently, IFAW BRRC released two vultures into the wild in Dazhuangke Village, Yanqing County.

One of them went back to nature successfully, but the other was not accustomed to the wild due to long-term illegal captivity.

The staff at the center brought it back for further treatment.

On January 17 this year an injured vulture was found by a man surnamed Deng at the village entrance.

He recalled that the big bird was in bad condition and unable to fly. He took the bird home, fed it some meat and contacted the center. At the time, the vulture suffered from severe diarrhea and anorexia.

After a physical examination, the veterinarian found that most of its nails had fallen off. The center customized a thorough recovery plan for the bird. Fortunately, it has responded well after five months of treatment and is strong enough to head off back to the wild.

Later in the year, IFAW BRRC received another vulture from Fengtai Forest police station. Its condition was much better compared with the previous one, with only an injury to the wrist.

But the raptor rehabilitators were more concerned about its abnormal behavior: it was friendly to humans, but aggressive to its own kind.

It is said to have been held captive illegally for a long time.

"Vultures with behavioral problems would run into many difficulties in the wild. For example, it might ask for food from people instead of hunting itself; it might chase after what it considers its own kind in the breeding season.

"In view of these problems, we decided to reduce our contact with it and settle it in our largest outdoor cage with the other two healthy vultures.

"Its bad behavior is being corrected gradually and its health and flying skills are pretty good now. We hope to release it to the same habitat in the future so that it can keep learning wilderness survival skills from the other healthy vultures.

"It's a pity that nature, the place where it should fly freely, seems so alien to it. The best we can do is to bring it back to the center, let it keep learning from the recovering vulture and strengthen its flying training.

"Hopefully it can return to nature as soon as possible," said raptor rehabilitator Shang Yugang from IFAW BRRC.

Since its establishment in 2001, IFAW BRRC has treated more than 2,900 rescued raptors, 60 percent of which went back to the wilderness where they belonged.

"When the vultures stretch their wings soaring into the blue sky I feel like I am flying with it. I hope everyone can protect animals by not keeping and selling them," said volunteer Liu Bing who participated in releasing the animals.


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