BirdLife hopeful of diclofenac ban
BirdLife is hopeful that the drug blamed for the deaths of millions of south Asian vultures will soon be banned in India and elsewhere.
The three species of vulture have died after ingesting the drug diclofenac, which is used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for livestock. Vultures are nature’s cleaners in south Asia and ingest the drug when eating carcass flesh. At a two-day meeting finishing today, the Indian government opted to await the results of final tests on the proposed replacement, meloxicam, which are due next week, but BirdLife is optimistic that a ban will follow.
BirdLife and a number of its Partners were among the organisations to identify diclofenac as the cause of the problem and later helped establish that meloxicam was a viable replacement. Tests so far have found that meloxicam does not harm vultures, or other birds, and is an effective livestock treatment.
Chris Bowden, who heads the vulture conservation programme at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) said, "I am convinced that diclofenac will be banned in India this year and possibly within the next six months. Without a ban, Asian vultures will become extinct. That would be a tragedy not just for the birds but for the thousands/millions of people for whom vultures are crucial to health, livelihood and religion."
"The most important step to save the vultures, as I understand it, is the complete ban on the veterinary formulation of the drug diclofenac." —Shri Namo Narain Meena, Minister of Environment and Forests
Two Indian ministries are key to the decision to ban diclofenac. Shri Namo Narain Meena, Minister of Environment and Forests said at the meeting in Delhi, "The most important step to save the vultures, as I understand it, is the complete ban on the veterinary formulation of the drug diclofenac."
But the Agriculture Ministry, which will make the final decision, has insisted on the last meloxicam tests. Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of Bombay Natural History Society added, "The Ministry of Environment and Forests is fully behind the need for a ban. However our Agriculture Ministry appears to be the main delay to saving vultures from extinction."
The Indian government has however sanctioned a nationwide census of vultures to establish how many remain. Slender-billed Gyps tenuirostris, Indian G. indicus and White-rumped Vultures G. bengalensis in South Asia have suffered one of the most rapid and widespread population declines of any bird species, declining by more than 97 per cent over the last 10-15 years.
Chris Bowden added, "The census will find the remaining pockets of vulture populations so that when diclofenac is banned, it will be much easier to target the areas in which it must be removed most quickly.
"Meloxicam is already available in India but is slightly more expensive than diclofenac and not so widely available. Incentives from the government to encourage more companies to produce the drug, so reducing its cost, would be invaluable in ensuring vultures survive."
BirdLife is leading work to establish breeding centres for vultures so that a captive population can be established and released when diclofenac is no longer used. Two centres are now taking vultures and it is hoped to set up another four.