Meet Shahzeb Nasir, a medical student from Dow University of Health Sciences.
Shahzeb loves animals; he’s also passionate about saving their lives. In fact, he even went undercover to the Karachi Zoo to expose the abysmal conditions in which the animals live.
Shahzeb is now on a new mission. One where he wishes to save the dwindling number of vultures in Sindh. MangoBaaz got in touch with Shahzeb regarding his new mission. Here’s what he had to say:
“Once upon a time, vultures used to be a common sight in the skies of Karachi. In fact, anyone above the age of fifty, including our parents and grandparents have at some point had an unpleasant or intimidating encounter with them. However, today, our youth and children are completely unfamiliar with these massive birds and don’t even know what they look like. Unfortunately, vultures are now one of the most threatened species of animals on the entire planet, especially in Pakistan.”
Shahzeb is part of a small team of wildlife activities and avid nature photographers led by Mirza Naim Beg.
Mirza Naim Baig is the CEO of Dream Merchants and one of the pioneers in Sindh for the protection of local and migratory wildlife. This is the first ever true wildlife and nature dedicated ecotourism company in Pakistan. Shahzeb, along with his team, set out in search of the often unseen vultures. These vultures normally migrate to the Karachi area during the winters. However, the catch was that winter period was long over.
When Mirza Naim Beg discovered the site where the vultures congregate in the midst of winter, Shahzeb was the first one notified.
“When I was told about the location of the site, I was left with many more questions than I thought I would have! I found myself what if the vultures weren’t migrants but residents. Was it possible they had found the perfect site and had chosen to stay close to Karachi when they first came here during a winter migration? Is it possible all the books on raptors were wrong about the ranges of Cinereous and Griffon vultures? Had Mr. Naim Beg just found the site that no previous raptor expert knew of?”
Based solely on these thoughts, Shahzeb and his crew decided to revisit the site where these gigantic birds of prey had first been spotted.
With the winter period long over, it was going to be difficult to find Cinereous and Griffon vultures especially when it was believed they were flying back to Africa and Europe. The crew’s curiosity and uncertainty led them to the Karachi toll plaza where the vultures had once been seen. Soon enough, they saw a silhouette of a bird with a ten-foot wingspan casting a massive shadow underneath it as it flew high up in the sky above them.
Shahzeb expressed his disbelief:
“Suddenly all the anxiety and the doubt about us having been too ambitious wore off and we were overcome with shock. This discovery wasn’t just a first for the region and Pakistan, but possibly the first in the world of Cinereous and Griffon vultures nesting and possibly breeding in a range they weren’t previously known to reside in. Had vultures finally made a comeback in Karachi?!”
According to the data compiled by the wildlife department of India, in the 1980’s, Pakistan and India combined had over 60 million vultures. However today that number is less than 100,000.
That represents a decline of over 99.9%. The reason vultures are decreasing in number is not because of unregulated trophy hunting, habitat loss, poaching or competition from invasive or introduced species. Rather, it is because of an anti-inflammatory drug commonly used by the cattle industry known as Diclofenac, administered to prevent infections.
Animals that don’t survive the treatment are often discarded in empty expanses of land where endemic vultures are and are frequently found. The vultures that prey upon these carcasses often suffer from renal failure and die.
Currently, Sindh has only two native species of vulture, those being the White-Rumped Vulture and the Indian or Long-Billed Vulture
There are currently fewer than 125 White-Rumped Vultures present in Sindh, making them a critically endangered species that is on the brink of extinction.
Shahzeb explained to us how their discovery could save these endangered species.
“Our work could change what we know about native and resident vulture species and populations and thus the means by which to protect and conserve them. If the migratory Cinereous and Griffon vultures are indeed breeding and nesting here all year round like we have found, then it is paramount for the areas surrounding Kirthar National Park and the areas surrounding the Superhighway to be declared Diclofenac free zones.”
These vultures have chosen to nest and breed against all odds and past records in an area they never did before. Hence, it is up to us to not repeat the mistakes of the past that nearly wiped them off the face of the earth the first time around.
Vultures signify healthy ecosystems. The decline in our natural resources and wild lands have shown a direct correlation to the decline in vulture populations.
Just like it’s vital to keep our cities clean to prevent the spread of infections and viruses, it is important to protect vultures whom in turn protect us and our children for generations to come.
“This discovery gives us a second chance to put things right. Let us not fail yet again,” Shahzeb says
Be a voice for these magnificent beasts, and let us strive towards a new Pakistan by not repeating our mistakes of the past. There are only 5000 Cinereous vultures left on the planet and from what we saw more than 9 of them now seem to call Sindh home.
Tag your friends in the comments and help educate them. Let’s keep our vultures safe and sound.