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The race to prevent the extinction of South Asian vultures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2008

Deborah J. Pain*
Affiliation:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, U.K.
Christopher G. R. Bowden
Affiliation:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, U.K.
Andrew A. Cunningham
Affiliation:
Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, U.K.
Richard Cuthbert
Affiliation:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, U.K.
Devojit Das
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Martin Gilbert
Affiliation:
The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho 83709, U.S.A.
Ram D. Jakati
Affiliation:
Haryana Forest Department, Van Bhawan, sector 6, Panchkula, 134109, Haryana, India
Yadvendradev Jhala
Affiliation:
Wildlife Institute of India, Post Bag #18, Chandrabani, Dehradun, 248001, Uttaranchal, India
Aleem A. Khan
Affiliation:
Ornithological Society of Pakistan, 109/D P.O. Box 73, Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan
Vinny Naidoo
Affiliation:
Department of Paraclinical Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa
J. Lindsay Oaks
Affiliation:
Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164-7040, U.S.A.
Jemima Parry-Jones
Affiliation:
International Centre for Birds of Prey, Little Orchard Farm, Eardisland, Herefordshire HR6 9AS, U.K.
Vibhu Prakash
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Asad Rahmani
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Sachin P. Ranade
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Hem Sagar Baral
Affiliation:
Bird Conservation Nepal, P.O. Box 12465, Lazimpat, Kathmandu, Nepal
Kalu Ram Senacha
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
S. Saravanan
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Nita Shah
Affiliation:
Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Mumbai, 400023, India
Gerry Swan
Affiliation:
Department of Paraclinical Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa
Devendra Swarup
Affiliation:
Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar 243122, Uttar Pradesh, India
Mark A. Taggart
Affiliation:
School of Biological Sciences, Dept of Plant & Soil Science, University of Aberdeen, AB24 3UU, U.K.
Richard T. Watson
Affiliation:
The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho 83709, U.S.A.
Munir Z. Virani
Affiliation:
The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho 83709, U.S.A.
Kerri Wolter
Affiliation:
Rhino & Lion Wildlife Conservation NPO, “Vulture Programme”, Kromdraai, South Africa
Rhys E. Green
Affiliation:
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, U.K.
*
* Author for correspondence; Director of Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), Slimbridge, Glos GL2 7BT, U.K.; e-mail: Debbie.Pain@wwt.org.uk
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Abstract

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Gyps vulture populations across the Indian subcontinent collapsed in the 1990s and continue to decline. Repeated population surveys showed that the rate of decline was so rapid that elevated mortality of adult birds must be a key demographic mechanism. Post mortem examination showed that the majority of dead vultures had visceral gout, due to kidney damage. The realisation that diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug potentially nephrotoxic to birds, had become a widely used veterinary medicine led to the identification of diclofenac poisoning as the cause of the decline. Surveys of diclofenac contamination of domestic ungulate carcasses, combined with vulture population modelling, show that the level of contamination is sufficient for it to be the sole cause of the decline. Testing on vultures of meloxicam, an alternative NSAID for livestock treatment, showed that it did not harm them at concentrations likely to be encountered by wild birds and would be a safe replacement for diclofenac. The manufacture of diclofenac for veterinary use has been banned, but its sale has not. Consequently, it may be some years before diclofenac is removed from the vultures' food supply. In the meantime, captive populations of three vulture species have been established to provide sources of birds for future reintroduction programmes.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Birdlife International 2008