Vulture crisis deepens
Asian vultures will be extinct in the wild within a decade without urgent action to eliminate the livestock drug that has caused their catastrophic decline, a newly published paper warns.
The new study shows that the population of White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis is dropping by more than 40 per cent each year in India where it has plunged by 99.9 per cent since 1992. Numbers of Indian G. indicus and Slender-billed Vultures G. tenuirostris together, have fallen by almost 97 per cent in the same period.
Conservationists say that banning the retail sale of the veterinary drug diclofenac and constructing three more captive breeding centres is the only way to save the birds. Manufacture of the veterinary form of the drug, as an anti-inflammatory treatment for livestock, was outlawed in India in 2006 but it remains widely available. Furthermore, diclofenac formulated for humans is being used to treat livestock.
The study, published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, states that White-rumped Vulture is now in dire straits with only one thousandth of the 1992 population remaining. Scientists counted vultures in northern and central India between March and June last year. They surveyed the birds from vehicles along 18,900 kilometres of road. Their study followed four previous counts, the last in 2003.
“Time has almost run out to prevent the extinction of vultures in the wild in India" —Professor Rhys Green, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)
The researchers believe that numbers of White-rumped Vultures in India could now be down to 11,000 from tens of millions in the 1980s. Populations of Indian and Slender-billed vultures have dropped to around 45,000 and 1,000 birds respectively.
“Efforts must be redoubled to remove diclofenac from the vultures’ food supply and to protect and breed a viable population in captivity”, said lead author, Dr Vibhu Prakash, of the Bombay Natural History Society (Birdlife in India). All three species could be down to a few hundred birds or less across the whole country and thus functionally extinct in less than a decade. It is imperative that diclofenac is removed completely from use in livestock without any further delay to avoid the extinction of the three vulture species. Vulture numbers may be even lower than the authors estimate because many of the sites used for their study were in or near protected areas where populations are higher than the average.
“Time has almost run out to prevent the extinction of vultures in the wild in India. The ban on diclofenac manufacture was a good start but a ban on the sale of diclofenac and other drugs known to harm vultures is vital”, said co-author, Professor Rhys Green, of the RSPB and the University of Cambridge.
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