Nine species of vulture can be found living in India, but most are now in danger of extinction after a rapid and major population collapse in recent decades. The reason traced for their deterioration is the use of Diclofenac medicine.
Veterinary diclofenac caused a decline in the populations of three species of South Asia’s Gyps vulture: white-rumped, long-billed and slender-billed vultures. Oriental white-backed vultures declined by more than 99.9 per cent between 1992 and 2007, a loss of tens of millions.
It is a common anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock and is used to treat the symptoms of inflammation, fevers and/or pain associated with disease or wounds.
It is lethal to vultures when they consume the carcasses of dead animals treated with it. It leads to renal failure in vultures damaging their excretory system.
The government had banned the veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006. The ban restricts diclofenac production to human formulations in a single 3ml dose, according to a note from BirdLife International, a global partnership of independent organisations working together for nature and people across more than 120 countries worldwide. In India it partners with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
A replacement drug: Meloxicam is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with analgesic and fever reducer effects was developed and proposed after tests on vultures in captivity. Meloxicam affects cattle the same way as diclofenac, but is harmless for vultures.
Effect of vulture extinction:
a) Without vultures, hundreds of thousands of animal carcasses have gone uneaten which pose a serious risk to human health. Livestock carcasses provide a potential breeding ground for numerous infectious diseases, including anthrax, and encourage the proliferation of pest species, such as rats.
b) The loss of vultures also results in an increase in the number of feral dogs around carcass dumps which has led to increase in rabies cases.
c) Traditional sky burials of some Himalayan and Parsi communities cannot be carried out.
SAVE: Saving Asia’s Vulture from Extinction, is a consortium of likeminded, regional and international organisations, created to oversee, coordinate conservation, campaigning and fundraising activities to help the plight of South Asia’s vultures.
SAVE has established captive breeding of vultures at centres in India, Nepal and Pakistan.
SAVE is also pursuing mandatory safety testing for all current and future NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in India, with a mechanism to immediately ban all but small vials of those found to be vulture-toxic.
Conservation Status of Vultures