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Populations of the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Indian Vulture G. indicus and Slender-billed Vulture G. tenuirostris declined rapidly during the mid-1990s all over their ranges in the Indian subcontinent because of poisoning due to veterinary use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. This paper reports results from the latest in a series of road transect surveys conducted across northern, central, western and north-eastern India since the early 1990s. Results from the seven comparable surveys now available were analysed to estimate recent population trends. Populations of all three species of vulture remained at a low level. The previously rapid decline of White-rumped Vulture has slowed and may have reversed since the ban on veterinary use of diclofenac in India in 2006. A few thousand of this species, possibly up to the low tens of thousands, remained in India in 2015. The population of Indian Vulture continued to decline, though probably at a much slower rate than in the 1990s. This remains the most numerous of the three species in India with about 12,000 individuals in 2015 and a confidence interval ranging from a few thousands to a few tens of thousands. The trend in the rarest species, Slender-billed Vulture, which probably numbers not much more than 1,000 individuals in India, cannot be determined reliably.
The collapse of South Asia's Gyps vulture populations is attributable to the veterinary use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac. Vultures died after feeding on carcasses of recently-medicated animals. The governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan banned the veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006. We analysed results of 62 necropsies and 48 NSAID assays of liver and/or kidney for vultures of five species found dead in India between 2000 and 2012. Visceral gout and diclofenac were detected in vultures from nine states and three species: Gyps bengalensis, Gyps indicus and Gyps himalayensis. Visceral gout was found in every vulture carcass in which a measurable level of diclofenac was detected. Meloxicam, an NSAID of low toxicity to vultures, was found in two vultures and nimesulide in five vultures. Nimesulide at elevated tissue concentrations was associated with visceral gout in four of these cases, always without diclofenac, suggesting that nimesulide may have similar toxic effects to those of diclofenac. Residues of meloxicam on its own were never associated with visceral gout. The proportion of Gyps vultures found dead in the wild in India with measurable levels of diclofenac in their tissues showed a modest and non-significant decline since the ban on the veterinary use of diclofenac. The prevalence of visceral gout declined less, probably because some cases of visceral gout from 2008 onwards were associated with nimesulide rather than diclofenac. Veterinary use of nimesulide is a potential threat to the recovery of vulture populations.
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