Sightings of Himalayan Griffon in Singapore

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“The Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) is a proud and magnificent raptor that feeds on carrion. The image at left, reproduced from the late Dato Loke Wan Tho’s book, A Company of Birds, shows these raptors feasting on a cow’s carcass in their home territory in the Himalayas. Dato Loke was an early pioneer birder-photographer and Nature Society member.

“The Griffon is a resident of Central Asia and the Himalayas. It is a high altitude bird, found mostly at 1,500-4,000 metres but can sometimes be seen at lower altitudes, especially in Nepal where a few juveniles may wander down onto the plains.

“These vultures do not normally migrate south during winter but small numbers appear to be doing so during the last decade or so. The first sighting was in December 1989 when four birds were spotted in south-west Singapore. Subsequently, there were reports of their presence every few years or so. The last sighting was in January 2008 when three birds were spotted flying over the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

“All the recent sightings have been in December and January, coinciding with the northern winter. These were either juvenile or immature birds, suggesting that they probably strayed away from their normal flight paths due to navigational inexperience.

“Most of the birds spotted appeared weakened by the long flight and lack of food. There was always the fear that they might end up being predated, considering their state of health. As the lesser of two evils, the few that were captured ended up in the Jurong BirdPark, to become caged exhibits.

“A bird was also reported to be captured in the Indonesian island of Bintan in February 2008 and displayed in a local resort. When I was in Bintan recently, the vulture was looking well and healthy (right). However, my attempts at getting information were not successful.

“Lack of expertise and funds obviously saw these stray vultures ending in Singapore’s Jurong BirdPark, Indonesian Nirwana Gardens Resort aviary or even Thailand’s zoos, with no chances of being released

“However, there is hope. The Kasetsart University Raptor Rehabilitation Centre, in partnership with the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand and the Thai Raptor Group, has recently set up an “Adopt a Raptor” programme. Their first success was the care and subsequent release of a Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and four starving Himalayan Griffons.

“Singapore and possibly Indonesia could study Thailand’s success and develop programmes of their own so that future weakened and injured raptors need not end up being captive exhibits.”

The image of the Griffon feasting on carrion has been reproduced courtesy of Cathay Organisation. Please note that the copyright belongs to Cathay Organisation and shall not be reproduced/disseminated without the owner’s written consent. The Griffon in the cage is by KC Tsang.

KC Tsang
May 2008

Loke Wan Tho (1957). A company of birds. London: Michael Joseph.

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