15 Apr 2021

Celebrating 10 years of saving Asia’s vultures from extinction

For the past decade, BirdLife is immensely proud to have been part of SAVE: a continent-wide collaboration to bring Asia’s vultures back from the brink. Join us in celebrating SAVE’s ground-breaking achievements over this time.

The White-rumped Vulture (Critically Endangered) is now on the increase in Nepal © Wade Tregaskis / Flickr
White-rumped Vultures (Critically Endangered) are now increasing in Nepal © Wade Tregaskis / Flickr
By Jessica Law

If you think the sight of vultures circling overhead is unnerving, imagine seeing absolutely none at all in places where they used to thrive. This was the reality for researchers in Asia in the 1990s, who first started to notice these majestic raptors disappearing, along with all the beneficial waste disposal services that came with them. In response, BirdLife Partners across Asia worked with scientists and fellow conservation organisations to identify the cause, and tackle it before it was too late.

Before long, they found the main culprit: diclofenac, anti-inflammatory drug used to treat livestock, but which is deadly to the vultures that clean up the animals’ carcasses. This was the start of a long battle to remove this drug and similar substances from the market and rebuild vulture populations, many of whose populations had plummeted by as much as 99%.

In 2011, in a move to strengthen their collaboration, organisations from across the world came together to form SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction). This consortium united 24 partners from a wide range of sectors and specialisms, including five BirdLife Partners at the forefront of the action. Over the past ten years, BirdLife is immensely proud to have been part of ground-breaking research, advocacy and conservation work that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Today, SAVE is a highly-respected organisation which is taken seriously by governments worldwide. We have upheld diclofenac bans in five countries, with the recent bans in Iran and Oman directly guided by SAVE’s expertise. We have released the first ever captive-bred White-rumped Vultures in Nepal, and created a large network of Vulture Safe Zones. We have raised awareness among the public, many of whom were previously oblivious of the vulture crisis, and contributed to the Convention on Migratory Species’ instrumental vulture Multi-species Action Plan, in which over 120 countries committed to protect 15 vulture species across Africa, Europe and Asia. This ambitious strategy draws heavily upon SAVE’s Blueprint recovery plan, which is updated every year with new knowledge and discoveries.


The first ever release of captive-bred White-rumped Vultures sparked a media flurry © BCN

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The effect of all this hard work is already beginning to show: the latest research has found that Nepal’s White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis and Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris populations have been slowly increasing since 2013. This coincides perfectly with the point at which sales of diclofenac (outlawed in 2006) had successfully been phased out in Nepal’s pharmacies.

Even through the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, SAVE has still managed carry on making a difference. In 2020 alone, we developed a conservation action plan for vultures in Myanmar, made important progress towards banning ketoprofen (another vulture-toxic drug) in Bangladesh, and released eight captive-bred White-rumped Vultures in India.

There’s still a long way to go – undercover surveys of India’s pharmacies suggest vulture-toxic drugs may again be on the increase, and the death this year of a Cinereous Vulture in Europe, where the veterinary use of diclofenac was made legal in 2014, shows that the progress is not universal. Nevertheless, it’s clear we’re moving in the right direction. In celebration of their 10-year anniversary, SAVE has brought out a beautiful vulture song that summarises what we’re all thinking, and now hoping with increasing confidence: “we want you back.”


Find out more at save-vultures.org