Vultures were very common in India till the 1980s. During this period, the populations of the three resident Gyps species — the oriental white-backed, the long-billed, and the slender-billed — in the country were estimated at 40 million individuals.
The overall population however crashed by over 90 percent during the mid-’90s. By 2007, 99 percent of the three species had been wiped out. These three species are now listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, the highest threat category ahead of extinction.
In 2004, the cause of their crash was established as diclofenac, a veterinary drug.
When the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are administered to cattle, and if the cow or buffalo dies within a few days and is consumed by vultures, it causes gout, kidney failure, and death in those birds.
Subsequently, the Drug Controller General of India in 2006 banned the veterinary use of diclofenac. In 2015, it also restricted the vial size of the human formulation of diclofenac to prevent its misuse in treating cattle.
Besides prevention of poisoning of the principal food of vultures, the cattle carcasses, with veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, the Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020-2025 proposes to establish additional conservation breeding centers in the country.
At present, there are eight centers in the country. While the primary focus of these centers is the breeding of vultures, they also serve as vulture conservation centers. They also help in identifying the cause of mortality in vultures in the region. Now, one center each was proposed in Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, which will cover most parts of the country.
Besides, the conservation breeding program will also be initiated for red-headed vultures and the Egyptian vulture, whose populations have also crashed by over 80 percent over the years.
similarly, the Action Plan has proposed for vulture rescue centers to treat the injured in accidents and fall sick by unintentional poisoning, one vulture safe zone in each State for the conservation of the remnant populations, coordinated nationwide vulture count once in four years by involving State Forest Departments, BNHS, research Institutes, etc.
Responding to the action plan, Rhys Green, Saving Asia’s Vultures From Extinction (SAVE) Chair, said this important plan covers an impressive range of actions, from testing the safety to vultures of veterinary drugs, linked with the regulation of their use, to conservation breeding to maintain a safe captive population.
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