Khoj February 2008

The vanishing Vulture in Asia is a cause of grave concern for us all. Khoj - February 08 seeks to draw the attention of all its members towards this tragic development - one that has brought the majestic Vulture to the point of extinction in a little over a decade or so.

The vulture plays an important ecological and social role in Asia. They are critical for:

1. Health
2. Keeping the environment clean from rotting carcasses

Their dramatic decline in numbers - about 97% in India since 1992 and 92% in Pakistan in 5-7 years - is attributed to a livestock drug. We shall discuss more about this fact in coming days. For the time being we would like our members to ponder over the following:

Q1. What kind of bird is the vulture?

a) Carnivorous
b) Omnivorous
c) Scavenger
d) Herbivorous

Q2. What is the meaning of extinction?

Q3. What is the primary cause for the dramatic decline in numbers of the vulture in Asia?

Q4. Name two places in India where vulture breeding centers have been established.

Q5. Name three Asian countries where the decline rate of vultures is maximum.

Q6. How many species of vulture are on the way to extinction? Can you name them?

HELP US STOP OUR VULTURES VANISHING - A call from the renowned Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Bombay

An ecological disaster is occurring in Asia

Vultures used to be widespread here. But in barely a decade, they have declined to the brink of extinction.
The overall cause of the declines has now been identified as a drug called Diclofenac. It is given to livestock as an anti-inflammatory drug. If the livestock die within a few days of being treated with the Diclofenac, their carcasses still contain the drug. This is toxic to vultures and causes them to die of kidney failure.
Now three species face extinction. The rate of decline has been staggering: at least 97% in just 12 years in India, and 92% in five years in Pakistan.

The ecological and social consequences of losing a bird species have never been so starkly apparent. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and its partners are calling on governments, industry and supporters to help to save the vultures.

Vultures – their vital role

Vultures have always been a very important part of life in Asia. Part of the cultural and religious fabric, they play an important ecological and social role. They are vital for health, cleaning the environment of rotting carcasses. As vultures are decreasing, there has been an alarming increase in feral dogs, attracted to the rotting meat. This poses health and safety threats.
Vultures are also central to customs of the Parsi community, who traditionally place their dead on ‘towers of silence’ where vultures feed. The dodo was not pushed to extinction as quickly as this.

The decline of the vultures is one of the most severe of any bird species. BNHS, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Indian Government and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute are among the organisations leading the urgent action to save them. Without this action, these species will become extinct.

The story of dramatic decline

In the 1980s, the Oriental white-backed vulture was thought to be the most abundant large bird of prey in the world. The population has crashed by at least 97% in 12 years. The loss is tens of millions of birds.
The Oriental white-backed vulture, and the closely related slender-billed and long-billed vultures, is now classified as ‘critically endangered’. The decline was first recorded in India by BNHS in the mid-nineties. Research published in the scientific journal Nature by the Peregrine Fund (TPF) and the Ornithological Society of Pakistan (OSP) shows that Diclofenac is a major cause of the declines in Pakistan. Research from India and Nepal, published by the RSPB, BNHS, Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) confirms that veterinary Diclofenac is the major cause of vulture declines across South Asia.

What we are urgently calling for

• The government of India, Pakistan and Nepal to prevent the sale of veterinary Diclofenac, and to make safe and affordable alternatives available to farmers.
• Six conservation breeding centres to be set up across the region for all three vulture species.
These have been set down in more detail in an international resolution passed in Bangkok in November 2004.
We need breeding centres if we are serious about saving vultures. Vultures bred in captivity will be reintroduced into the wild, once the environment is free of Diclofenac. One vulture breeding centre was established in Haryana in 2003 and has now been expanded with a capacity of 150 birds. A second is being built in West Bengal, but two more are still needed.

Urgent action needed now

We need your support to fund the campaign and breeding centres.
1. To bring viable numbers of vultures of the three threatened species into captivity as soon as possible. Before it is too late.
2. To remove veterinary Diclofenac from the environment, through public awareness and government control.
We need to replicate breeding centres like the one at Haryana at three more sites in India, as well as establishing centres in Nepal and Pakistan.

Vulture conservation action is also underway in Nepal (led by BCN) and Pakistan (by WWF, IUCN Pakistan, OSP and TPF), alongside national governments. BNHS and the RSPB support these efforts.

Key players to take action

An important resolution was made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chairing the National Wildlife Board in March 2005 to ‘take steps to phase out the veterinary Diclofenac within six months’. This positive commitment by the Indian Government will need wide support and follow-up to ensure that it is enacted in time to save the vultures. Similar measures are needed from all South Asian governments, as well as their full support for the conservation breeding programme.

Veterinary Diclofenac is manufactured and sold by many pharmaceutical companies. We are calling on the pharmaceuticals industry to support our efforts by making the removal of Diclofenac as quick and effective as possible, and to facilitate its replacement by a safe and affordable alternative.

We need four breeding centres in India, and fundraising for these and the work needed to remove Diclofenac from the environment is a huge challenge we face. The Indian Government, UK Government and the Rufford Foundation are supporting the work, but we need wider support so that we can act in time.

Contact (BNHS)
Bombay Natural History Society
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Road

Web resources to know more about the disappearing vulture, and to help out:

A reality that has to be changed

Vanishing vultures film

We hope teachers will use the above resources to get the message across. Projects, presentations, banners etc may be prepared to disseminated this vital information.

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