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Rio Tinto collaborates on ground breaking environmental initiative in India

29 january 2014

Rio Tinto, one of the world's major diamond producers, has announced a significant new partnership aimed at protecting India’s critically endangered vulture species and maintaining the biodiversity of the Madhya Pradesh region of India.
In the first partnership of its kind in the mining industry in India, Rio Tinto has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Bombay Natural History Society to support a number of wildlife management initiatives over a five year period.
Dr. Nik Senapati, Managing Director of Rio Tinto India said, “The negative effect of the declining vulture population on the economy, public health and culture in India cannot be underestimated. Rio Tinto is delighted to partner with the esteemed Bombay Natural History Society and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.”
Vultures are a critical part of the food chain. By removing rotten meat and bones they maintain a balanced ecosystem and prevent the unnecessary spread of disease. The dramatic decline in the Indian vulture population is directly linked to animal husbandry practices, namely the use of the pain killer, Diclofenac, to treat cattle. This pain killer poisons the vultures when they eat the carcasses of cattle. In under a decade vulture numbers in India have decreased by up to 99%, the fastest decline of any bird ever reported.
Dr Rahmani, Director of the Bombay natural History Society said, "this project is of international significance and sets a new benchmark in saving critically endanger species of vultures."
The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, home to Rio Tinto’s developing Bunder diamond project, has a thriving population of birdlife and is a natural habitat for vultures.
Together with Birdlife International and the Bombay Natural History Society, a 100 kilometre vulture “safety zone” will be established in Madhya Pradesh. The expectation is that this will protect wild vultures and in the future, vultures from captive breeding centres in India could be re-introduced into the wild. Over time this would revert back to being a self- supporting population.
Mr Tarun Malkani, chief operating officer of Rio Tinto Diamonds in India said, “Rio Tinto is playing a leading role in helping determine how wildlife must be protected. This partnership is a reflection of our long term commitment to Madhya Pradesh and the way we work with the government, local partners and industry experts.”

Aruna Gaitonde, Rough&Polished correspondent in India