Archived 2014 discussion: Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis): request for information

This discussion was first published as part of the 2012 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2014.

BirdLife species factsheet for Himalayan Vulture

Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis is widespread in the mountains of China, South Asia and Central Asia. Although it is generally resident, the more nomadic juvenile and immature birds are known to descend to adjacent valleys and plains south of the Himalayas (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It is listed as Least Concern on the basis that it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria.

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence of less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appeared to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).

It has been suggested, however, that the species, like many vulture species in South Asia, is potentially being impacted by diclofenac, in particular when young birds descend to lowland areas in South and South-East Asia, where there is a high prevalence in the veterinary use of the drug by farmers (S. Mahood in litt. 2008, 2011; C. Bowden in litt. 2011). Prakash (1999) noted that a few juveniles of this species wintered in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, from 1985-1986 to1991-1992 at least, but that none were recorded there in 1996-1997 and since. Such impacts of high juvenile mortality would likely result in a time lag before serious effects are seen in wider population trends; however, it remains necessary to collate trend data from various regions to find whether there has been any impact so far.

Further information is requested on the species’s population trends throughout its range, in addition to any evidence of threats, in particular the likely impact of diclofenac poisoning.


Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D. A. (2001) Raptors of the World. London, UK: Christopher Helm.

Prakash, V. (1999) Status of vultures in Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, with special reference to population crash in Gyps species. J. Bombay Natural History Society 96(3): 365-378.

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22 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis): request for information

  1. Ding Li Yong says:

    Himalayan griffons has regularly strayed to Southeast Asia in past two decades. It is almost annual in the Malay Peninsula and has reached the Riau islands. Also appears to regularly occur in winter in northern plains of Cambodia and in Kachin, Myanmar. It would be timely to examine the proximal causes of these strays as this were undocumented in earlier literature as there are potential conservation implications.

  2. Carol Inskipp and Hem Sagar Baral says:

    Himalayan Vulture is a widespread altitudinal migrant in Nepal. It has been assessed as Vulnerable under the criteria A2ace in The State of Nepal’s Birds 2010 published by Bird Conservation Nepal and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Kathmandu. The species has not yet been re-assessed for the Nepal Red Data Book which is currently being researched and written (to be published by the Zoological Society of London). Massive declines of the species have been recorded in Upper Mustang. A decrease of 84% of active nests of Himalayan Vulture was recorded there between 2002 and 2005 and thought highly likely to be due to diclofenac poisoning (Acharya et al. 2009).

    Reference: Acharya, (Sharma) R., Cuthbert, R., Baral, H. S. and Shah, K. B. (2009) Rapid population declines of Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Bird Conservation International 19: 91-107.

  3. Yang Liu says:

    This species is common in Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. Wintering populations can also be found in Yunnan province, China. No obvious threat is detected.

  4. Praveen J says:

    During a birding expedition to Rajasthan in Dec 2011 (Mike Prince, Dipu Karuthedathu, Vinay Das, Sachin Shurpali & self), a few (<5) Himalayan Vulture adults were noted in the garbage dump near Bikaner, while adults as well as juveniles (<5 in total) were noted in Desert NP, Jaisalmer – once in a mixed swarm of Vultures with all possible 7 species. Hence, the birds are probably regularly wintering in the plains in low numbers. If the dispersal is considered as a criteria for possible contact with Diclofenac – then this new information on the dispersal patterns would contest well in favour of uplisting the species.
    Praveen J

  5. I would like to comment on and qualify Ding Li Yong’s remarks above: Ding suggests the species has a similar status in Cambodia and Myanmar. I disagree because the available evidence points to the contrary: There are only 3 or 4 records in winter from Cambodia, despite nationwide monthly monitoring at vulture restaurants. I would describe the species as either a vagrant or rare winter visitor to Cambodia. However, the species winters regularly in substantial numbers in Kachin State, and possibly Shan and Chin States in Myanmar. Please refer to Htin Hla et al. Historical and current status of vultures in Myanmar: Bird Conservation International (2011) 21:376–387.

    Jonathan C Eames

  6. The species is considered a regular but rare winter visitor in Thailand. Based on sight records, and emaciated vultures submitted to Kasesart University Raptor Unit (KURU) for rehabilitation and release back to the wild under my supervision, at least 5-18 vultures have made seen in winters in the country annually through past six years. The majority of these records with photographic evidence and the rehabilitated vulture (total of 18 birds), their age-class are examined on plumage and molt status of flight feathers, and show that most were first-year, and only two of the 18 were second to third-year or second-winter birds.

    Sole reason for rehabilitation at KURU is emaciation, which leads to suggest that the main treat in the country is shortage of animal carcass used as food source, due to change of livestock carcass management in the country. Of 17 Himalayan Vultures released at the western forest complex (world heritage site) during Spring migration, by KURU within three consecutive years, two were tracked, one vulture (released in 2009 in a group of ten) was recaptured in Jilin province, NE China about two months post-release (confirmed by wing tag), and the other vulture released in 2011, tagged with satellite unit (backpack type), was moving towards Shan state, Myanmar by two weeks post-release.

    Ding Li, Y. and Kasorndorkbua C. 2008. The status of the Himalayan Griffon /Gyps himalayensis/ in South-East Asia. Forktail 24:57-62.

    Kasorndorkbua C., C. Chinuparawat and C. Nualsri. 2008.
    Photographic Guide to the Raptors of Thailand. Amarin Printing and Publishing Co.Ltd. Bangkok, 328 pages.

  7. Sherub says:

    The Himalayan Griffon is a commoner species than the Lammergeier. As of now, Bhutan could afford to keep it in the LC Category, unless populations in other range countries decline drastically.

  8. Himani Kala says:

    As most of the scavenger bird species especially vultures are facing threat due to pain-killer drug, but I found this is not the only reason for its population decline. Nesting site problem could be one among all other reason for its decline in numbers. I have seen Himalayan Griffon in Southern Aravalli Hills in Rajasthan (Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary) India, and found its a rare winter visitor in this region. As habitat degradation and lack of nesting site are also posing threat, I think more research on other threats can be highlighted for its proper conservation. Above all most of the vulture species are already in “CE and E ” categories, but still if there is chance to highlight this group, would definitely add to its significance to the eco-system.


    Himalayan Vulture was assessed as Vulnerable based on the criteria A2ae? in a draft species account prepared for the Nepal bird Red Data Book. This draft assessment was upheld at the October 2012 workshop held to discuss over 240 draft Nepal species accounts. The following text is extracted from the full Himalayan Vulture species account which is available for download from the front page of Himalayan Nature: A distribution map showing pre- and post-1990 distribution is also available here.

    STATUS AND POPULATION The species still appears to be widespread. However a 2002-2005 study found a rapid and substantial decline in upper Mustang, Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA), a remote part of the Himalayas The number of active nests declined by 84% from 2002 to 2005 (Acharya 2006, Acharya et al. 2009).

    THREATS Secondary poisoning by NSAID drugs and a shortage of safe food are suspected to be causing declines in Himalayan Vultures. A wide range of veterinary medicines was found to be promoted and on sale in Mustang District, including one NSAID for treating livestock that contained diclofenac (Acharya et al. 2009). These were still freely available in Mustang in February 2012 (Raju Acharya in litt. to C. Inskipp, February 2012). In addition many immature Himalayan Vultures are known to migrate to lowland Nepal and further south to India in winter are exposed to the same risk of diclofenac poisoning as the other three globally Critically Endangered Gyps vultures (Acharya et al. 2009, Paudel 2008).
    In addition, the use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides was found to be common in upper Mustang. These could have similar or compounding effects to diclofenac on the decline of the species. Although the Annapurna Conservation Area Project emphasizes organic farming, the rate of pesticide consumption in the area is actually increasing (Acharya et al. 2009).

    CONSERVATION ACTION Further monitoring is urgently needed to find out if these declines are found in any other areas of Nepal, if the species’ distribution has been affected and to confirm the cause of the decline. The Vulture Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2009-2013) (Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Nepal Government 2009) has helped prioritize and streamline vulture conservation activities in Nepal. For example in 2006, a ban was introduced on the production and importation of diclofenac for veterinary use. Pharmaceutical firms are encouraged to promote a safe alternative called meloxicam. Vulture-Safe Feeding Sites have since been established in a number of locations. The project also promotes local livelihoods activities including bee-keeping and organic farming runs educational events raising awareness of the socio-economic value of vultures and the damage done by diclofenac. Himalayan Vulture has been recorded in almost all of Nepal’s protected areas.

    Acharya, (Sharma), R. (2006) Status of Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis Hume 1869 and ethno-vulture relationship in Upper Mustang, Nepal. MSc thesis, SchEMs, Kathmandu. 57pp.,%201869.pdf
    Acharya, (Sharma) R., Cuthbert, R., Baral, H. S. and Shah, K. B. (2009) Rapid population declines of Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Bird Conservation International 19: 91-107.
    DNPWC/MoFSC/GoN (2009) Vulture Conservation Action Plan for Nepal (2009—2013). Kathmandu. Government of Nepal, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
    Paudel, S. (2008) Vanishing vultures and diclofenac prevalence in Lumbini IBA. Danphe 17(2): 1-3.

    Carol Inskipp and Hem Sagar Baral

  10. Vimal Thapa says:

    The Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis) seems common than any other vulture species in Nepal, that I have been lucky to see from lowland to highlands in Nepal. The number seen in a groups is certainly not many and usually seen in 5-8 in a group some time but usually seen soaring in one and twos in number…

  11. Ding Li Yong says:

    Himalayan Griffon appears relatively common in Omnogovi province, especially in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia and some of the adjacent massifs. It is the commonest of three vultures recorded in the park , outnumbering Lammergeier by at least 5 to 1. Large wild ungulates are still common in many parts of the park but there is some hunting pressure and heavy grazing pressure from subsistence farmers.

  12. Arun P.Singh says:

    Populations of both Himalayan Griffon and Lammergeier has remained steady in the Dehradun District, Uttarakhand, lower western Himalayas. A flock size 27-35 of Himalayan Griffon and 2 Lammergeier have been consistent over the hills of Mussoorie-Dhanaulty over the last decade,although the former comes down to Dehradun valley in winter feeding on carcass along with large congregations of Steppe Eagles,where the effect of diclofenac needs to be investigated.

  13. Virat Jolli says:

    Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) is an important scavenger species of Himalayas.
    It is fairly common bird species in mid altitudes of Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India (especially in Sainj Valley). In my PhD research work, I found that Himalayan Griffon remain unaffected due to the construction of large scale hydro-electric project. This could be attributed to the fact that local villagers of Kullu used to leave their dead cattle on the outskirts of their villages, griffon feeds on these dead cattle which may help in sustaining the population of griffon in this region. Moreover, local villages practice traditional farming methods with minimal use of chemical insecticides and pesticides.

  14. Praveen J says:

    Last year, there was a spurt of sightings of juvenile Himalayan Vultures in South India – two of them being exhausted birds recovered by villagers. Reasons for this case of vagrancy is not studied – however, it could be due to decline of food supply in their regular breeding range in the Himalayas. This also brings in an additional conservation concern that there is a risk of juveniles getting infected while feeding on carcasses in peninsular India where diclofenac is still prevalent.

    Praveen, J., Nameer, P.O., Karuthedathu, D., Ramaiah, C., Balakrishnan, B., Rao, K.M., Shurpali, S., Puttaswamiah, R. and Tavcar, I. (2014). On the vagrancy of the Himalayan vulture Gyps himalayensis to southern India. Indian BIRDS 9(1): 19-22.

  15. Chris Bowden says:

    Based on various comments and information I’m aware of, from across much of the breeding and wintering range (many juveniles obviously winter and over-summer to the south of the breeding range), my suggestion would be to upgrade from Least Concern to Near Threatened (but not to Vulnerable). This is justified by some significant declines detected in some populations, particularly in Nepal (but not in others, and some showing stability or even anecdotal increases), and by the large numbers still present, and the wide range. The fact that adults tend to stay at higher altitudes throughout the year – in areas where the chances of diclofenac and other NSAID poisoning is lower (note there is evidence that this species is indeed susceptible to diclofenac poisoning) has apparently protected this species from more serious declines. If this status change is made, we should note that this is not a result of a sudden recent change, but a longer term situation. With signs of diclofenac levels being significantly reduced in the Gangetic plains, the threat to wintering juveniles may be reducing, but there are sufficient signs of declines in some populations that Least Concern does not seem appropriate for this species.

    • I don’t think there is a problem with this species. We are making Himalayan Vulture (HV) survey yearly in the Annapurna region with Munir Virani – Africa Programs Director, The Peregrine Fund. Our last year (May,2013) survey showed there is healthy numbers of HV in the area. No dead HV was recorded during the survey period.

      Though, Acharya et al. 2009 shows rapid decline of HV in the Upper Mustang of Annapurna Conservation Area -Nepal, indicating the number of birds recorded per day and per kilometre of transect declined by 67% and 70%respectively over the period of survey in 2002, 2004 and 2005; and the number of active nests declined by 84%from 2002 to 2005.

      But other study conducted by Virani et al 2008 shows no evidence of decline in population of adult and immature HV in Annapurna Conservation Area during study period 2002 to 2006. Therefore, i am replicating the study of Virani et al 2008. Last year we recorded 22.9 HV per day (183 HV) over an eight-day period. This was almost twice as many recorded during surveys that were conducted between 2002 and 2006 where the mean number of HV was 12.4 per day (Virani and Watson, SAVE 3rd meeting report). A follow-up survey has been planned for May 2014.

      There is however a critical need to continue monitoring the population size and density of the species throughout the Himalayan Region. We are searching for the supports from SAVE, RSPB and other dedicated organizations to continue the replications in same area for long run.

      Thank you.

      With Best Regards
      Dikpal Karmacharya, M.Sc in Zoology, Tribhuvan University (TU)
      Assistant Teaching – Department of Zoology, Bhaktapur Multiple Campus, TU
      Conservation Officer – Global Primate Network, Nepal (
      Consultant – Bird Conservation Nepal (
      Research Intern – Friends of Nature (

  16. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List would be to uplist Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis to Near Threatened under criterion A3e.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  17. Munir Virani says:

    I have been reading with much interest the responses given for this species. Having traveled in the South Asian region for the last 13 years, I have had numerous sightings of HVs. Our work with BCN from 2003 – 2006 across the Kali Gandaki Valley showed no changes in the relative abundance of HVs. I have had regular sightings of juvenile birds in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh between the months of December and March. In May 2013, we surveyed the Kali Gandaki valley in Nepal once again to re-assess our relative abundance indices for the species. To be honest, I was staggered by the numbers of HVs that we encountered. Although it rained for two days non-stop, we still had over twice the number of HVs observed than we did during the 2003-2006 period. We plan to conduct these surveys once again this May. We also provided a grant to Krishna Bhusal to look at numbers of HV nests in the AgarKhannchi region of Nepal where he observed stable numbers of nests over a three period. The Himalayan region is huge and although Nepal is a small country, the data coming from there maybe a reflection of the overall scenario for the species. Unless observers are starting to see clusters of dead HVs, reduced breeding output and crashes in their populations (as seen for OWBV and LBVs), I see no need to uplist the species.

  18. Paul Thompson says:

    I am not sure how this relates to status changes in the breeding grounds (if any). But the following summarises the change in status in Bangladesh which I believe is not just from increased observer effort (from a forthcoming Forktail paper):
    Scarce localised winter visitor. The only previous published record was in 2001 (Thompson & Johnson 2003). Since 2003 sightings of this species have increased such that it appears to now be annual in small numbers, mostly in the north east. All of the records are of immature birds, and most often associating with the few White-rumped Vultures remaining. Early documented records (all from the north-east unless stated) include: four on a carcass on the west side of Hail Haor on 12 February 2005 (PMT); three with one White-rumped Vulture drying out after a storm on the east side of Hail Haor and later circling over Srimangal town on 29 March 2009 (PMT); two on a carcass next to Srimangal town on 16 February 2011 (PMT, EUH); and two soaring over Bodormokum, Teknaf (south-east) on 8 January 2011 (SUC). Khan (2013) reported 16 sightings during 2008-2012, all from the north-east, central and north-west regions. Since 2008 birds have regularly been recorded in each winter at a roosting site in a tea estate in Moulvi Bazar district (north-east) where a maximum of 21 were recorded in 2012 (Khan 2013), they are usually present from late November up to March (TK, MA).

    These locations do bring birds into areas where diclofenac is used, although there have been good efforts in Bangladesh to get it banned and to change practices.

    From the previous email discussions NT seems reasonable to me.

    • Khadananda Paudel and Toby Galligan says:

      Himalayan Vulture in Nepal

      We have recently analysed population trends in Himalayan Griffon (HG) in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal (Paudel et al in review; provided on request). Between 2002 and 2005, HG declined by 75%, but underwent a partially recovery by 45% between 2005 and 2008 (Acharya et al 2009) and remain stable up to 2012. Over the ten year period between 2002 and 2012, the population had declined by 27%. We think that this rapid recovery is due to immigration from Central Asian population, facilitated by the migratory behavior of immature birds, rather than local recruitment.

      We know that this species is intolerant to diclofenac (Das et al. 2010) and that its decline is likely to be caused by widespread use of declofenac in the 1990 and 2000s. Since the 2006 ban on diclofenac, its use has decreased markedly throughout Nepal (BCN unpublished data). We, other wildlife organisations and birdwatchers have been noticing gradual increases in sightings and numbers of HG in Nepal. Further, other species of Gyps vulture have shown signs of recovery since the diclofenac ban (Prakash et al. 2012).

      Elsewhere in South Asia, diclofenac use has also decreased, but perhaps not as much as in Nepal and therefore a continual decline of this species is possible across the wider region. This is particularly important for immature wintering in northern India and Pakistan, which would continue to cause a slow decline in the global population. National assessment has considered Himalayan Griffons as Vulnerable (State of Nepal’s Birds, 2010).

      Despite the positive trends in Upper Mustang, we suggest the HG is up-listed to Near Threatened, because diclofenac is still being misused in South Asia where large numbers immature birds from the Central Asian population winter.

      Acharya, R., Cuthbert, R., Baral, H. S. & Shah, K. B. (2009). Rapid population declines of Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Bird Conservation International. 19: 99-107.

      BCN and DNPWC, 2011. The state of nepal’s birds 2010. Bird Conservation Nepal and
      Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Kathmandu.

      Das, D., Cuthbert, R., Jakati, R. D. and Prakash, V. (2010) Diclofenac is toxic to the Himalayan Griffon Vulture Gyps himalayensis. Bird Conservation Internatnational 21: 72–75.

      Paudel, K., Galligan, T., Amano, T., Acharya, R., Chaudhary, A., Baral, H.S., Bhusal, K.B., Green, R., Cuthbert, R., (in review) Population trends in Himalayan Griffon and Lammergeier in Upper Mustang, Nepal, before and after the ban on diclofenac.

      Prakash. V., Bishwakarma, M.C., Chaudhary, A., Cuthbert, R., Dave, R., Kulkarni, M., Kumar, S., Paudel, K., Ranade, S., Shringarpure, R. & Green, R.E. (2012). The population decline of Gyps vultures in India and Nepal has slowed since veterinary use of diclofenac was banned. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49118.

      Thank you.
      Khadananda Paudel and Toby Galligan

  19. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there has been no change to our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

  20. The death of 80 vultures from the Jorbeer dead animal dumping site was reported due to poisoning effects which included Himalayan griffon (Gyps himalyensis), Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus), Cinareous vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and 17 steppe eagle. We have rescued 26 vultures and handed them over to the local zoo for treatment. Now vulture conservation has totally changed because of the available in situ methods. Recently, a large decline in vulture population is noticed in Jorbeer and their mortality has increased. We need a research study for long-term conservation for knowing vulture migration. The central zoo authority has no programme for the protection of local vultures, Egyptian vulture (N. percnopterus) and other species of Gyps like Eurasian and Himalayan griffon.

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