As the world prepares to unite for International Vulture Awareness Day on September 2nd, we celebrate international initiatives to recognize and honour the unsung heroes of our ecosystems: the vultures.
These majestic creatures, often misunderstood and underappreciated, play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of nature. According to the CMS Raptors MOU Conservation Status Assessment Report, vultures are the most threatened group of raptors, with a total of eight “Critically Endangered” species and the highest percentage of threatened or Near Threatened species (93%).
Vultures, with their soaring flights and keen senses, serve as nature's clean-up crew, diligently ridding our landscapes of decaying carcasses. Their impeccable scavenging abilities prevent the spread of diseases, offering a critical service that often goes unnoticed. These remarkable birds possess an uncanny ability to locate carcasses from great distances, ensuring that no trace of death lingers longer than necessary.
Yet, vultures find themselves facing an unprecedented crisis, with several species inching towards the brink of extinction. Unregulated use of veterinary drugs, belief-based practices, and habitat loss have pushed these guardians of the skies to the edge. This International Vulture Awareness Day is a clarion call to rally behind vultures and take proactive steps to secure their future.
India shows the way forward
We therefore celebrate India's decision to prohibit aceclofenac and ketoprofen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In a groundbreaking stride for vulture conservation, India's Drugs Technical Advisory Board has formally recommended nationwide bans on two highly toxic veterinary drugs, aceclofenac and ketoprofen. These painkillers, frequently used in lieu of diclofenac to treat cattle, have been a long-standing concern due to their lethal effects on vultures. The endorsement by the Indian Health Ministry and the Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation follows years of safety testing and advocacy by conservation groups and research institutions. With the bans now officially gazetted since 31 July 2023, the CMS Raptors MOU acknowledges this decisive move as a pivotal step towards preserving Asia's endangered vulture populations from further decline. Studies conducted in India, Pakistan, and Nepal affirmed that vulture populations had witnessed a plummet of over 95% from 1992 to 2007. Particularly astounding was the White-rumped Vulture's decline of 99.9%. Demonstrating a united front for vulture preservation, the governments of India, Nepal, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh, exhibited unwavering commitment by enacting bans on the veterinary use of diclofenac as early as 2006 and 2010. This shared dedication was further cemented in 2012 through a collaborative political agreement, signifying a synchronized push to revive vulture populations. Central to their strategy was the targeted reduction of threats posed by NSAIDs other than diclofenac, underlining their steadfast commitment to vulture protection.
The vulture collapse cost human lives
The dramatic decline of Indian vultures had a direct profound impact on human lives with ripple effects that extend far beyond initial observations. A recent study sheds light on their vital role and the repercussions of their near extinction. Vultures, acting as nature's sanitation crew, consumed a significant portion of decaying livestock carcasses in India, helping prevent the spread of disease. The loss of vultures brought about significant socio-economic repercussions, resulting in unattended carcasses that attracted disease-carrying feral dogs and rats. This situation posed health risks and contributed to an increase in rabies cases, thus facilitating the spread of pathogens to water sources.
Research led by E. Frank and A. Sudarshan of the University of Chicago has demonstrated that the decline in vulture populations correlates with an increase in human deaths, particularly in areas with high livestock populations. n regions where these avian custodians were once common, the mortality rate among humans surged by 4% following the decline of vultures. The research suggests that the decrease in vulture populations resulted in approximately 500,000 additional human fatalities between 2000 to 2005: This highlights the vultures' role as a ‘keystone species,’ underscoring the significance of their conservation in maintaining both ecosystems and public health.
Last updated on 29 August 2023