Vulture released in Thailand, not Mongolia

Published May 11, 2007

DOI LANG, Thailand - It seemed like a good idea: fly a rare vulture from Thailand back to its native Mongolia. Thai Airways agreed to transport the bird, and nature lovers rallied to the cause.

But fears of bird flu thwarted the flight, and the vulture was freed in northern Thailand on Thursday, thousands of miles from home. China and South Korea refused to let the bird be flown through their capitals, despite tests showing it did not have bird flu.

The cinereous vulture was found in southeastern Thailand in December, emaciated and apparently lost. Also known as the black or monk vulture, the species is in decline in Asia.

Veterinarians in Bangkok nursed the bird back to health, feeding it pork legs and rotten meat. But Thursday's release didn't go exactly as planned.

Officials were hoping the bird would fly off in search of food along with four Himalayan griffon vultures also rescued in Thailand.

Instead, the griffons took off first, leaving the vulture alone, stretching its wings. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, who oversaw the bird's recovery, then picked it and threw it into the air, forcing it to fly toward a ridge.

Chaiyan said the bird was tagged with a radio transmitter to track its progress and migration routes.

Thai Airways announced in March that it would transport the vulture to Mongolia. But months of lobbying failed to ease the bird flu concerns of China and South Korea, though tests deemed the vulture free of the virus.

The cinereous vulture - normally not found in Thailand - is defined as near-threatened by the World Conservation Union. Its global population is estimated at between 14, 400 and 20, 000.