Swooping down on banned cattle drugs can save vultures

How swooping down on banned cattle drugs can save vultures

Vultures are on the verge of extinction due to the use of banned drugs to treat livestock, whose carcasses they feed on. DH File Photo

Members of the ‘Vulture Conservation’ working group of five south Indian states have come together to protect vulture population by creating a ‘vulture safe zone’ outside Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, southern parts of Maharashtra and Srisailam tiger reserve in Andhra Pradesh.

Wildlife Conservation Foundation (WCF), Mysuru, Arulagam, an NGO in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) have joined hands for the cause.

96% decline in numbers

The vultures were one of the wonderful sky riders earlier. But today, their population has declined by 96%, as per the study. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, comprising Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves in Karnataka, Madumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala, southern parts of Maharashtra and Srisailam Tiger Reserve in Andhra Pradesh are the breeding centres for vultures. But use of banned medicines like Diclofenac, Ketoprofen, Aceclofenac, Flunixin and Nimesulide for livestock brought them close to extinction.

Rajkumar Devaraje Urs of WCF said, “Medicines used to treat sick livestock wiped out all vulture population and brought them to extinction. It is very important to stop giving drugs like Diclofenac, Ketoprofen, Aceclofenac, Flunixin and Nimesulide for livestock. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had banned these drugs for animal use in 2006,” he said.

According to him, coordination between different states is a must because birds have no borders like humans.

“We focus on creating ‘Vulture Safe Zone,’ around 30 square kilometre outside the national park, where these drugs are being used on animals. We educate the farmers and other stakeholders not to use such medicines,” Rajkumar said.

Safe alternatives

There are safe veterinary medicines available which are also effective on cows such as meloxicam and tolfenamic acid or those prescribed in the Indian forms of medicine like Siddha and Ayurveda.

According to him, carcasses of animals poisoned to death are a major threat to vultures. Even a single poisoned carcass can wipe out a whole population.

TN example

Another major threat is veterinary use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which have caused a great decline in vulture populations. According to Chris Bowden of RSPB and SAVE, the Tamil Nadu government is setting an example by restricting veterinary supplies of painkillers such as Flunixin and Ketoprofen.

The organisations held a meeting recently over creating a ‘vulture safe zone’ at the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History at Anaikatty, Coimbatore.

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