CONSERVING THE VULTURES OF SOUTH ASIA
Over the last 20 years, South Asia’s vultures have declined precipitously. The Oriental white-backed vulture, the long-billed vulture, and the slender-billed vulture once numbered in the tens of millions.
These three species have now been reduced by 99 per cent. All three are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and face imminent extinction. The decline in vultures has been caused by diclofenac, a veterinary drug which is ingested by the birds when eating the carcasses of recently-treated animals.
Research has shown that eating even a very small amount of this drug can lead to death in Gyps species.
The loss of the vultures means the loss of a critically important ecosystem service. Animal carcasses are now being left to rot, leading to an enormous waste disposal problem and to a number of health concerns.
Feral dogs, dog attacks and the risk of rabies have all increased. Other impacts include groundwater contamination and loss of income for farmers, whose fields can become unusable for up to three weeks as a result of rotting carcasses.
The loss of vultures has also had severe social impacts on some communities, such as the Parsis, who traditionally offered their dead to the vultures in “Towers of Silence”, and the Jains, whose “Panjrapores” also relied on vultures.