Asian vultures extinct within a decade

Several species of Asian vulture are being wiped out faster than the dodo because they are eating carcasses of livestock that have been treated with a veterinary drug which to them is highly toxic.

According to conservationists, the birds can only be saved by banning the use of anti-inflammatory diclofenac and setting up a network of captive breeding centres.

While the demise of vultures may not tug on the heart strings in the same way as the decline of a host of cuter creatures, they play a vital role in the Asian eco-system.

Indian experts have recorded a sharp rise in the number of feral dogs as they fill the gap in the food chain, and with that an increase in the number of cases of rabies and other diseases.

Carcasses which would normally be cleaned up by the birds are also being left to putrify for longer, posing an environmental and health hazard.

A new study published by the Bombay Natural History Society shows that the population of oriental white-backed vultures is falling by over 40% per year and two other once-common species face a similar plight.

Manufacture of the drug was outlawed in India in 2006, but it remains widely available.

Furthermore, diclofenac formulated for humans is being used to treat livestock.

“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,” said lead author of the report Dr Vibhu Prakash.

Co-author, Dr Richard Cuthbert, of the RSPB, said “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 cause kidney failures in vultures is vital.”

Sam Bond

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