India’s Ministry of Health has just taken a major step toward ending the downward spiral of the country’s vulture population by reducing the dosage amount of a drug called diclofenac.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), based in the UK, believed that this drug was “the main, if not the only, cause of vulture declines. The birds were eating the carcasses of animals that had recently been treated with diclofenac. The birds were then dying of kidney failure. It has been shown that, even if less than 1 percent of animal carcasses contained lethal levels of the drug, this would have been enough to cause the collapse of vulture numbers. … the effect of this drug on birds of prey remind us of the devastating impact of the pesticide DDT on birds worldwide. It took years for governments to remove DDT from use.”
Although diclofenac was banned from use as a veterinary drug in 2006, it has remained in use as a human medication, which has then been illegally administered to animals.
Oriental white-backed vultures declined by a shocking 99.9 percent between 1992 and 2007. The story of what happened when their numbers collapsed serves as a chilling reminder of just how interconnected every aspect of nature is, and how, when humans mess around with it, all kinds of unforeseen consequences await.
Vultures had traditionally cleared the streets of rotting carrion in India for thousands of years. When they were no longer able to do so, stray dogs moved in. As they feasted on cow and buffalo carcasses, their numbers increased to approximately 25 million, causing a huge increase in cases of rabies. One person in India is bitten by a rabies-infected dog every two seconds, and up to 30,000 of these people die from the disease every year. The vast majority of victims are under 15.
With the explosion of India’s stray dog population, leopards also drew closer to human-inhabited areas, to prey on these animals. They have been known to attack small children. Although there is a lack of official records on this matter, it is estimated that around 500 humans have been killed by leopards over the past 20 years, with some of these attacks occurring in the suburbs of Mumbai.
However, it now looks as though India’s vultures will have a chance to recoup! The Indian Ministry of Health has finally moved to restrict the production of human-formulated diclofenac to single vials of three milliliters, making it much more difficult for the drug to be illegally given to animals.
Chris Bowden, Program Manager of RSPB’s Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) campaign, welcomed the announcement. He said, “This is a major step to bringing vultures back from the brink of extinction.”
Image source: Daily Express UK