Two more vulture species decline in population drastically over the years
BANGALORE: In a recent paper published in the Cambridge Journal - Bird Conservation International, researchers from BNHS-India and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), it has been stated that like the three Gyps species, even Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus and Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus had declined by nearly 80% and 91% respectively in the Indian subcontinent since the mid-1990s and are now globally threatened. Both species are likely to have showed similar physiological intolerance and exposure risk to diclofenac through a common ancestry and foraging niche with Gyps vultures. The paper examined the records of Red-headed and Egyptian Vultures obtained on road transects in and near protected areas between 1992 and 2011, particularly in northern India. This study comes as one of the strongest evidence that these two vulture species have also been affected by diclofenac.
Commenting on the impact on these two species, Chris Bowden, International Species Recovery Officer and SAVE Programme Manager said, "This study clearly shows that not just the Gyps species, but also other vulture species, have been affected by drugs such as diclofenac to varying extents. Future conservation efforts should cover all such species that have been affected, through a broader framework of research and advocacy".
Diclofenac ban to the rescue
After the ban on veterinary diclofenac by the government of India due to sustained efforts by BNHS and RSPB, the two organizations have been actively advocating for smaller doses of human diclofenac, under the wider international consortium SAVE (Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction), so that the same may not be illegally used on cattle. The positive fallout has been that the prevalence and concentration of diclofenac in domesticated ungulate carcasses has decreased and population declines of Gyps vultures have slowed down or even reversed in a few cases. The observations in the later years of the study reveal that the declines in Red-Headed and Egyptian Vultures also seem to have slowed down after the ban. Their numbers have even possibly increased in some areas.
Illustrating the development Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS said, "The partial recovery of vulture numbers after the ban shows that strong research and advocacy go a long way in effective conservation. Further research should also focus on the current status of Red-headed and Egyptian vultures".
The way ahead
The level of sensitivity to diclofenac in these other two species, when ingested by feeding on cattle carcasses is yet to be known completely. Hence, further research is underway, since till now the sample size for the study of these two species has been smaller than in the case of the Gyps species. Thus, continued ban on such drugs, widespread advocacy and search for safer alternatives may benefit a wider range of vulture species in the Indian subcontinent than was previously thought.
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