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Asia's vulture decline arrested

13/11/2012 09:49:16

The decline in Asia's vultures appears to have been halted accoring to Bombay Natural History Society

New research paper shows vulture numbers have stabilized

November 2012. After years of relentless efforts to save the vultures in South Asia, there is encouraging news. According to new research there are the first signs of recovery amongst Asia's critically endangered vultures.

Recent surveys show that vulture numbers have stabilized across India and Nepal (And Pakistan, read Pakistan vultures on road to recovery). Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), UK-based Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Central and State Governments in India and several other organizations under the consortium Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) have been working for years to conserve the three critically endangered vulture species.

Stabilizing numbers
In the study, researchers have reported the results of long-term monitoring of vulture numbers across India and Nepal. The latest surveys show that the numbers of the three critically endangered vulture species have remained stable in the last couple of years. Prior to the ban on veterinary diclofenac the vulture population was decreasing at a rate of up to 40% a year.

Still highly vulnerable
Recent surveys for vultures were undertaken across more than 15,000 km of roads in western, central and eastern states of India and across 1,000 km of roads in the lowland regions of Nepal, following the same routes and methodologies of earlier surveys in both countries. Surveys were undertaken by BNHS in India and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN) in the lowland regions of Nepal. However, it should be noted that while the stabilization in vulture numbers is encouraging, only a small number of the birds remain and they are still extremely vulnerable.

Oriental White-backed Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture
Commenting on the positive development, Dr Vibhu Prakash, the lead author of the study and Deputy Director, BNHS said, "The stabilization of vulture numbers across India for all the three critically endangered species is the first sign that the government's ban on veterinary diclofenac is having its desired impact. Continued efforts are still required to protect the remaining small populations, including stopping the illegal use of human diclofenac in the veterinary sector."

Co-author of the study, Dr Richard Cuthbert from RSPB said, "The stabilisation in numbers of these three critically endangered vulture species in India and Nepal is really encouraging as previously populations were nearly halving in number every year. A lot of hard work still remains to ensure that the small surviving populations can now begin to recover across South Asia and other toxic veterinary drugs do not cause similar impacts like diclofenac."

Diclofenac disaster wiped out 99% of vultures
Populations of the three Asian vulture species, Oriental White-backed Vulture, Long-billed Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture, have declined by more than 99% in South Asia since the early 1990s. This was due to the use of veterinary drug diclofenac. The drug had lethal effects on vultures that fed on the carcasses of cattle and buffaloes that had been treated with the drug shortly before they died. This prompted International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify their status as "critically endangered". The governments of India and Nepal subsequently banned the veterinary use of the painkiller diclofenac in 2006. This initiative was essential for protecting the region's vultures. Now the effectiveness of this ban at reversing the vulture declines is slowly being observed.

Scientists from BNHS and RSPB, along with forest departments in various states of India have been successfully working on vulture breeding, advocacy and field research such as carcass sampling for nearly a decade now. The SAVE consortium bringing together national and international experts was launched in 2011 to help coordinate research, advocacy and implementation of the actions needed to prevent these birds from disappearing forever.
The research paper was published in the science journal PLoS ONE.

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