India to ban vulture death drug
The Indian government has confirmed their intent to phase out a veterinary drug responsible for the massive decline in vulture numbers within the next six months. Diclofenac, used in southern Asia as a livestock treatment, is toxic to vultures when they feed on contaminated carcasses, causing kidney failure and death.
The drug is now proven to have been responsible for the near-total collapse of three species of vulture in south Asia – White-rumped Gyps bengalensis, Indian G. indicus and Slender-billed G. tenuirostris. The species are already locally extinct in several parts of the region, but were formerly among the commonest large birds of prey in the world.
Dr Debbie Pain, Head of International Research at the RSPB, commented, "An alternative livestock treatment needs to be found as soon as possible. Initial trials conducted in South Africa have raised hope that a drug already available on the Indian market may be a viable alternative to diclofenac, and of comparatively low toxicity to vultures."
Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India) added, "In taking the decision to phase out diclofenac, Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh has taken the most important step yet to save these fast-disappearing vultures. However, the battle is not yet over. We have to develop conservation breeding centres as a further safeguard for these magnificent lords of the sky."
BirdLife is appealing to the governments of Pakistan and Nepal to join India in banning the veterinary use of diclofenac. Without further concerted conservation efforts, we could soon be witnessing one of the most dramatic bird extinctions since the previously abundant Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius was lost at the beginning of the twentieth century.