Vanishing vultures a growing concern for ecology


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Little noticed by the outside world, perhaps the most dramatic decline of a wild animal in history has been taking place in India. Large vultures, vitally necessary and once numbering in the tens of millions, now face extinction. It’s official, there has been a 99 per cent crash in the vulture population from the mid of 1990s till now. Though vultures were one of the most abundant large birds of prey in the world, their populations declined across much of the region in the first half of the 20th century but they remained common on the Indian subcontinent, where populations were maintained by an abundant supply of livestock carcasses.

From the late 1990s, however, the Indian populations of vultures crashed, with dramatic declines. Current evidence suggests that populations of these species are continuing to fall rapidly to the extent that they are now classified in classes as Endangered and Critically Endangered. Although threats such as reductions in food availability and poisoning from exposure to pesticides may play a role in the declines, there is very strong evidence that the causal factor is an anti-inflammatory painkilling drug, diclofenac, which has been used widely on the Indian subcontinent since the early 1990s.

The Diclofenac veterinary use was banned by government of India in 2006 but potentially unsafe drugs like Ketoprofen and Aceclofenac are still used in veterinary. These veterinary drugs is given to cattle, whose carcass the vultures are known to consume. Once they eat such carcass, the vultures die of kidney failure.
Unless the use of diclofenac and other lethal veterinary drugs given to cattle is not urgently controlled, the extinction of vulture species in India, all of enormous ecological importance, seems imminent.