news is that the fall of vultures in South Asia, particularly India, has
stopped and is even reversing in the case of some species such as the
paper in journal Science , titled ‚ÄúPollution, politics and vultures,‚ÄĚ
says the 2006 ban on manufacture, import and sale of painkiller diclofenac for
veterinary use, a cause for vulture mortality, and the timely response of the
governments in India have helped.
increase in the number of birds has been miniscule, after almost 99 per cent of
them in the wild dying. The situation remains precarious, and vulture
conservationists say the increase is too little to mean much.
As against a
population of 40 million vultures of different species in the 1980s, a rough
estimate by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in 2011 put the count at
fewer than a lakh in India. This is up from the 40,000 or so documented by it
in 2007. Oriental white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture and slender-billed
vulture, all resident varieties, have been the most affected.
paper by Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University, while giving a perspective on
the progress of vulture conservation in South Asia, documents the turnaround
story of vultures and praises India for timely action in saving the species
from extinction. It goes on to say that in comparison, the response of western
governments was much slower in banning pesticide organochlorides and DDT 40
years ago. The pesticide effect in the West continues to cause grave damage to
non-target organisms. But in South Asia, the fact that the decline has
significantly slowed and possibly even reversed has been directly attributed to
prompt action over the past decade.
says, ‚ÄúThe vulture collapse is an immense problem ‚ÄĒ in its sheer extent as well
as in its significance for people. So news that the declines are beginning to
slow and even reverse is extremely welcome and a testament both to the
tremendous hard work of all the NGOs in the SAVE consortium and to the
responsiveness of governments in the region.‚ÄĚ
diclofenac, which is said to be as fatal for vultures as cyanide is for humans
‚ÄĒ just one meal on a contaminated carcass is enough to kill a bird ‚ÄĒ has been
banned for veterinary use, the emerging challenge is the misuse by vets of
multi-dose vials meant for human use. Vibhu Prakash, Head of the BNHS‚Äôs vulture
conservation programme, says, ‚ÄúWe have been pressing the Union Health Ministry
to ban the production of multi-dose vials of diclofenac sodium, which are
generally of 10 ml to 30 ml, and enough for one cattle dose. The other problem
is that other veterinary drugs like acyclofenac and ketoprocin, which are also
fatal for vultures, are still in use.‚ÄĚ
the 2006 ban on diclofenac took about three years to be effective, he reckons
that it will take another five years or so before significant numbers of this
scavenger bird can be seen in the wild. The alternate pain killer, meloxicam,
is expensive and not as effective, which is why veterinarians sometimes use the
ones meant for humans. Just 0.05 per cent of diclofenac in a carcass is enough
to kill a vulture, which dies of kidney failure, within days of ingesting the
The lack of
vulture safe zones where diclofenac does not linger in the food chain, in the
country is also the reason why the BNHS is unable to release its captive bred
vultures into the wild as yet. Some 300 birds, including 46 chicks, have been
bred in the three BNHS breeding centres, Pinjore in Haryana, Rani in Assam and
in West Bengal.
The BNHS has
set 2016 as the target year to begin releasing its captive vultures subject to
the availability of vulture safe zones till then.
like Punjab, Maharashtra and West Bengal also set up vulture restaurants in the
last few years, to provide diclofenac free carcasses but the experiment has not
been very successful. Says Dr. Prakash, ‚ÄúThis concept does not work in India because
here there is no dearth of food for vultures. It will work only if the
authorities can ensure that for at least a 100 kilometre radius no carcass is
available, so that the vultures eat only at the ‚Äėrestaurant.‚Äô Only 5 per cent
of the Indian cattle bear traces of the drug, but even this has proved enough
to decimate the vulture population.
(Save Asia‚Äôs Vultures from Extinction) consortium for efforts across borders
was set up in 2011 and subsequently a new Regional Steering Committee was set up
by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Indian
government. The thrust is on vulture breeding, advocacy and carcass sampling.