A fresh light dusting of snow had settled on the Pir Panjal mountain range of the Himalaya, in Jammu and Kashmir. Almost camouflaged in the slated greys and browns of the mountainside, I came across this flock of Himalayan Griffon Vultures Gyps himalayensis. They were perched on a rocky cliff, golden brown feathers gleaming as they basked in the partial sunlight occasionally piercing through dark clouds. Their long, spiky ruff, pale brown with streaks of white, completed this majestic frame.
Native to the Himalaya and Tibetan plateau, the Himalayan Griffon Vulture is the largest Gyps vulture in Asia. The second largest of the Old World vultures, it nests in mountain cliffs, keeping to cold climes and high elevations. This formidable bird weighs up to 12 kg. and has a massive wing span, of about 120 cm., that allows it to soar in thermals to hunt for carrion.
Wildlife Week Oct 2 – Oct 8
This Near Threatened species feeds on the carcasses of large mammals, including that of livestock, thus playing an important role in balancing the montane ecosystem. They breed during the winter (December – March), and the young are taken care of by both parents until they are about six to seven months old.
Previously recorded only in the Sino-Himalayan region and Central Asia, it is now increasingly being found throughout Southeast Asia. Scientists suggest that the increased sightings outside its traditional range could be due to climate change and deforestation.
(The author, a wildlife conservationist and photographer, is presently Joint Director J&K Forest Research Institute)