Vulture conservation in India and Nepal
Populations of three of India’s commonest griffon vultures have declined by more than ninety per cent during the last decade and since late 1999 ZSL has been working closely with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the RSPB to investigate this problem.
Two of the three affected species, the Oriental white-backed and the long-billed vulture, once regarded as very common in India, are now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN – The World Conservation Union. The third affected species, the slender-billed vulture, has historically been uncommon, but now is regarded as extremely rare.
The problem was originally highlighted by Dr Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist of the BNHS. In the mid 1990s, Dr Prakash identified that the Oriental white-backed vulture and the long-billed vulture had declined by 96% and 97% respectively in Keoladeo National Park (KNP), Rajasthan, over a 10 year period.
He also noticed a marked increase in the mortality rate of both young and adult vultures in and around KNP, and that the birds appeared lethargic and sick with drooping heads for several weeks before death.
Interestingly, both affected species are in the genus Gyps (often called ‘griffon’ vultures), while other (non-Gyps) species of vulture in and around KNP appeared to be unaffected. Similarly, other scavenging species (birds and mammals) were unaffected.
As a result of impressive conservation science, the causes of this decline was identified. The most significant was the drug, diclofenac, given to cows by farmers. when vultures fed on cow carcasses left out, this drug caused rapid liver failure and death.
|ZSL vet offers India’s vultures a lifeline|
An experienced vet from ZSL is currently in India to assist in the development of local vulture programme vets in India and Nepal through training and the development of new techniques in the care of vultures at the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres.
|India-wide survey of vultures|
Prompted by dramatic and worrying findings, and supported by the RSPB and the Indian Government, the BNHS conducted an India-wide survey of vultures in 2000 and compared the results with similar surveys carried out in the early 1990s.
|Vulture Project Darwin Initiative|
Since the initiation of the project in 1999, several grants have been awarded to the project partners to assist with vulture conservation in South Asia.
|Vulture Recovery Plan|
An internationally-endorsed Recovery Plan for Gyps spp. vultures across South Asia was produced at a workshop held in India.
|Vulture Restaurants and Safe Zones|
Vultures are still affected even after Diclfenac banning, so 'safe zones' and 'vulture restaurants' have been set up to help them flourish.
Images are © Andrew Routh, ZSL