In a last ditch effort to save the Indian vulture from complete extinction, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has called for a ban or at least controlled production of Diclofenac -- a painkiller meant primarily for humans but, which, till recently was regularly used as an injectable drug on cattle by veterinary doctors.
Vultures cannot digest Diclofenac and hours after they feed on an animal carcass that has been injected with the drug, they die of renal failure. As a result of rampant use of the drug on cattle across India, the country’s vulture population, over a million even two decades back, has seen a 99 per cent decline, according to a government of India report of 2009. The Centre started phasing out the use of the drug for veterinary purposes in 2005. Today, using the drug on cattle is illegal.
The BNHS has now written to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) as well as to the union Health Ministry stating that the government should ask pharmaceutical firms to manufacture 3 ml dosage bottles of the drug as against the current size of 30 ml bottles. The reason for demanding 2-3 ml bottles is because that is the standard dosage required for humans. According to BNHS scientists, the 30 ml bottles, which are available freely at medicine shops are still used by some veterinary doctors and farmers to inject cattle illegally.
Speaking to Sunday MiD DAY, Assistant professor Dr Percy Avari, Poultry Science Bombay Veterinary College said, “In spite of the complete ban on the usage of Dicolfenac for veterinary purpose, there are still many vets and farmers who inject the drug on cattle.” BNHS Director Asad Rahmani said, “The only way to wipe out the usage of Diclofenac from veterinary use is by decreasing the amount of the medicine bottles available in the market from 30 ml to 2-3 ml.
We have already written several letters to the government and have also requested them to make this drug as a prescribed drug so that it’s not sold illegally.” Incidentally, BNHS has been working on a project to create awareness across India on how vultures are being driven to extinction because of Dicolfenac. When contacted, Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra, an activist working independently on creating awareness about vultures in the Srivardhan area in the Konkan belt said, “We have put up posters explaining the need to save vultures as they prevent many diseases. These posters are written in the local language and will be distributed in the villages so that farmers understand why the banned drug should not be used to inject cattle.”
As per the latest International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List or Red List Data, all the vulture species found in South Asia, are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’. At the start of the 20th century, vulture population in India was in millions. At present the number has reduced to just over 10,000.
Why save the vulture
When vultures disappear from an area, there is a rise of dogs and rats in the same region. Rats bring with them several life-threatening diseases for humans. Stray dogs, apart from causing a rise in rabies cases, also attract leopards to human settlements, as they are easy prey. Vultures, being natural predators too, keep rodent population in check.
Places where vultures are still spotted
In Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary and in Srivardhan areas of Maharashtra, vultures are still sighted. The NGOs working in this area are creating awareness among farmers and veterinary doctors about the negative impacts on society if the vulture population is wiped out.