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Synopsis: India’s vulture populations are not safe; they are still small to recover quickly and will not survive another catastrophic event.
Vultures were quite common till the 1980s and are fighting to survive currently. Currently, seven species in Africa and eight species in India are threatened with extinction. India has lost 99% population of the three species, White-backed Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture. The Red-headed and the Egyptian Vulture populations have also crashed by 91% and 80% respectively.
This catastrophic decline has been attributed to the use of diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in veterinary practice during the 1990s.
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Why is vulture more vulnerable?
Though the usage of diclofenac in India has reduced considerably now, it is continued to be misused in some places. Moreover, the vulture population is more vulnerable because,
Small population: Population is still small to recover quickly.
Slow breeding: Also, vultures are slow breeding birds, laying only one egg a year and having a longer immaturity duration after fledging. The remnant population will only double after 10-15 years without the occurrence of any adverse events.
Availability of other NSAIDs: Other NSAIDs like aceclofenac, ketoprofen, nimesulide, etc., that are harmful to vultures are still available for veterinary use in India. Aceclofenac metabolizes into diclofenac and is much more toxic to vultures.
What steps should be taken?
Check toxicity & use of NSAIDs: In the revised National Vulture Conservation Action Plan (2020-2025), the government plans to set up eight new captive-breeding centres (eight are functioning). But without a check on the toxicity of NSAIDs and their use (misuse of diclofenac), releasing the captive-bred populations in the wild will not be considered feasible.
With more robust policies and enforcement of rules that are immediate, we can safeguard the remnant vulture populations in the country.
With better practices, collective motive to change human behaviour and the usage of safe drugs for cattle treatment, we can save vultures from extinction.
Source: This post is based on the article “Drug debacle: Endangered vulture population still under threat” published in Down to Earth on 4th Sep 2021.