Vulture conservation in India and Nepal

Griffon Vulture

Populations of three of India’s commonest griffon vultures have declined by more than ninety per cent during the last decade. Since late 1999 ZSL has been working closely with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the RSPB to investigate this problem. As a result of impressive conservation science, the causes of this decline were identified. The most significant was the drug, diclofenac, given to cows by farmers. When vultures fed on drug-contaminated cow carcasses left out, they suffered rapid kidney failure and death. ZSL has participated in getting legislation to be put in place, as well as carrying out survey work, captive breeding and community education programmes to help protect the remaining populations. 

Why we are there

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

Key Achievements and Goals

Identifying the causes of the vulture decline, primarily feeding on diclofenac-contaminated cow carcasses, was the result of impressive conservation science. This allowed ZSL and partners to call for a ban on the drugs causing vulture deaths, passed in 2000. Despite the ban, other conservation measures have been necessary to reduce the agricultural uses of diclofenac, encourage the use of a non-toxic substitute, and to help reverse vulture declines. Set out in a Recovery Plan for vultures Workshop held in India, captive breeding centres have been set up in India and Nepal, and vulture ‘restaurants’ are run in Kailali, where the birds can feed safely. The numbers of all three species are improving each year as a result of these efforts.

Project information

Key species

Oriental white-backed and long-billed vulture, historically common in India and Nepal, are now both critically endangered.

The slender-billed vulture, has historically been uncommon, but now is regarded as extremely rare.

People involved

Nick Lindsay- prog manager

Andrew Cunningham- sci advisor

Partners and Sponsors

Mohammed bin Zayed Species Fund; Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund; Prince Bernhard Fund for Nature; UK Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal; National Birds of Prey Trust; Friends of Conservation; AZA Falconiformes TAG; Darwin Initiative; Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW); King Mahendra UK Trust; UK Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal.