World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) arranged a seminar at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) on Monday to mark International Vulture Awareness Day 2014.

Students, faculty members and media persons attended the event. WWF regards the white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) as one of its priority species for conservation. This species has been listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

The seminar featured a documentary screening, Missing Vultures, which draws attention to the Gyps vulture crisis. Uzma Saeed, Conservation Coordinator at WWF-Pakistan shared details of the ongoing in-situ and ex-situ vulture conservation initiatives by the organisation.

She said that the major achievement of the ex-situ conservation project had been the successful lobbying with the government to ban manufacturing and sale of the Diclofenac Sodium while funding and increasing the group size at the vulture facility in Changa Manga remains the biggest challenge.

She added that the number of active nests of the white-backed vulture at Nagar Parkar, Sindh has been increasing gradually over past four years. She stressed the importance of raising awareness among academia and the general public regarding illegal use of the lethal Diclofenac Sodium.

This event is part of activities undertaken by vulture conservationists around the world in the first week of September each year. International Vulture Awareness Day was initiated by the Birds of Prey Programme, South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust, England. The initiative was later expanded into an international event and highlights the conservation of vultures to a wider audience as well as the important work being carried out around the world.

From the year 2000 - 2004, Pakistan saw a rapid decline in the population of white-backed vulture. This was primarily due to the use of Diclofenac Sodium, a drug administered to livestock. When vultures fed upon the carcass of such livestock, it caused immediate renal failure in the form of visceral gout. The drug has been banned since the year 2006, however bringing the population back up to a sustainable level still requires tough conservation work.

WWF-Pakistan is carrying out ex-situ work in the form of a Restoration Centre in Changa Manga, where the current population of white-backed vultures is 14. The aim of the centre is captive breeding and maintenance of a safe population of the species.