The Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis): The First Ever eObs GPRS Tagged Animal on Earth

News | Posted on 2014-05-31

On 29 May 2014, at Wamsis Village near Trashi Ghadhen Lhakhang, Ura-Bumthang, a landmark was established in bird movement research.  A five-year-old cow named Khashamo (for its creamy brown coat) had died in its shed.  Gelek Gyamtsho, who lives at proper Pangkhar, was on his way to Trashi Ghadhen to run an errand when his grandmother, Thinley Wangmo, called him about the demise of Khashamo.

As Gelek started to process the dead Khashamo, Himalayan Griffons circled above him. He did not notice them until a few of the large birds perched on the surrounding spruce trees. Gelek noticed eight Griffons waiting to scavenge on leftovers, primarily the entrails of the cow.  One Griffon landed by the dead cow that Gelek was processing. Gelek threw the intestines and other unimportant meat organs to the bird. But he did not care to watch the bird feed on those wastes.

Later, the same bird went into the fenced compound of the Lhakhang. He approached the bird. It was not scared and did not fly away, but instead hopped and walked towards the fence. Meanwhile, Gelek remembered about the Griffon research being conducted by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE). Mr. Ugyen Tenzin, who hails from Somthrang-Ura, had appraised his relatives and people of Shingkhar and Ura of the Institute's Griffon studies. Gelek, cousin brother to Ugyen, remembered this and instantly caught the hesitant bird with a bamboo woven basket. At around 1510 hours, Gelek phoned Mr. Ugyen Tenzin, who contacted the other researchers from UWICE. At 1530 hours, a team from UWICE, comprising Tsethub Tshering and Sherub, drove to Trashi Ghadhen, carrying an aeObs GPRS (global package radio system) tag.

At Trashi Ghadhen Lhakhang, Gelek had secured the bird professionally. The UWICE team examined the bird and found that it was a fine and healthy individual. Its crop was almost full. It had probably consumed about a kilogram of meat. The weight of the meat in the bird's crop created imbalance, causing the bird to fall on its front when it tried to move. The bird was also wet from the day’s rain. The bird weighed 8.30kg and its wing cord measured 73cm. The eObs GPRS tag was readied for back-packing onto the bird. The research team harnessed the bird with the GPRS tag and released it at 1610 hours. As the bird was overfed and with wet flight feathers, it could not take to the air. Instead, it chose to walk and hop to a secure place.

The GPRS tag provides live feeds of the bird's activities, based on position and three-axes acceleration data. It also sends an email each day, informing researchers at UWICE of the bird's activity and location.

The tagged Griffon was named ThangKar Thuub, meaning the most powerful of the alpine meadows and the Tibetan Plateaus. ThangKar Thuub's GPRS tag has begun to send data via email to the research team. On 29th May, the tag indicated that the bird had traveled 32 km and was doing fine. ThangKar Thuub is the first bird on earth to carry an eObs GPRS tag.

It is a collaborative research on bird movement between the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Rodolfzell, Germany and UWICE.