The Centre plans to stop the misuse and overuse of veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that lead to death of vultures by regulating its sale only against prescription and ensuring all treatment of livestock is done by qualified veterinarians.
This is one of the key interventions of the Vulture Conservation Action Plan 2020-25, which was released by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on Monday.
Regulating the sale of veterinary NSAIDs can prevent poisoning of cattle carcasses, which is the primary source of sustenance for vultures.
Other interventions under the action plan include carrying out safety tests of available molecules of veterinary NSAIDs on vultures.
“The new molecules should be introduced in the market following safety tests on vultures. The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) must institute a system that removes a drug from veterinary use if it is found to be toxic to vultures,” the plan stated amid a bid to establish new vulture conservation breeding centres in the country.
At present, there are eight vulture conservation breeding centres across the country. The plan proposes to have at least one vulture safe zone in each state for the conservation of the remnant populations in that state.
The vulture safe zone will be created ensuring low prevalence of toxic NSAIDs in an area spanning a radius of around 100 kilometres (km) from the vulture colony.
The Red Headed Vulture and the Egyptian Vulture will receive special attention in the conservation breeding programme, as their numbers have dwindled by over 80%.
In the 1980s, the population of three resident vulture species such as Oriental White-backed Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture in the country was estimated at 40 million, but their count crashed by over 90% in the mid-1990s.
By 2007, 99% of these three species of vultures had been wiped out. The numbers of other vulture species also declined rapidly.
In 2004, following extensive research the cause of the crash in vulture numbers was identified to be the use of diclofenac, a NSAID.
The MoEFCC had released the vulture action plan 2006 to prevent possible extinction of vultures. One of the main interventions under the 2006 plan was to remove the use of diclofenac and curbing leakage of human formulation of diclofenac into the veterinary sector.
“However, the vulture populations in the country are still not safe. The populations are precariously small and remain vulnerable to adverse events till their numbers have increased substantially. This vulnerable period will be lengthy because of vultures’ low natural reproductive capacity,” the report stated.
Experts lauded the MoEFCC’s move.
“It’s a good move and a big decision, if it’s implemented well. I must congratulate the MoEFCC on this key action plan. Though veterinary diclofenac was banned, the drug meant for human use was being used for veterinary purposes in some parts of the country. If NSAIDs are sold only against prescription, the implementation gap can be curbed to a large extent,” said Asad Rahmani, a former director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and a veteran ornithologist..