CHENNAI: With the ban on the use of the drug diclofenac for treating cattle failing to help improve the vulture numbers, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has now restricted the use of the drug by humans, too.
The Ministry, in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has restricted the packaging of multi-dose vials of diclofenac to single dose for humans.
The move has kindled hopes for survival of these critically endangered species among conservationists who have been campaigning for ban in production of larger vials for years now.
“This is a positive move,” says S Bharatidasan, secretary of Arulagam, an organisation involved in conservation of vultures and other species. He says that despite the earlier ban of the drug in 2006, it was still used.
Experts cite this commonly used drug as the main reason for the decline in vulture population. The Tamil Nadu government, too, had removed diclofenac and replaced it with meloxicam, but in vain.
“This is mainly happening because diclofenac provides speedy recovery to the cattle. For cattle you need at least 15 ml of the drug which is extremely toxic for the vultures who feed on their carcasses. There has to be complete restriction,” says Dr Vibhu Prakash, prinicipal scientist at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Of the total 23 species of vultures found in the world, nine, including the Egyptian vultures, red-headed and long-billed ones are present in India and four are found in Tamil Nadu. However, in the recent years, their population has declined from 40 million to less than 1,000.
“I remember once on our way to Ranipet we found about 20 vultures lying dead on the road," said KV Sudhakar, president of Madras Naturalists’ Society. "After a post-mortem, we found that all had visceral gout, a condition where there is renal failure and the visceral organs, has uric acid deposits, which are residues of the diclofenac,” said Dr Vibhu. While steps have been taken by both the government and environmentalists, vultures continue to be on the brink of extinction.
In Tamil Nadu the vultures are found in Chennai, Mudumalai forests, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and the entire Nilgiri Biosphere in varying numbers. While they are rarely spotted in Chennai, Nilgiris has most number of these species.
According to a survey by Arulagam, the numbers have increased from 106, recorded in 2014, to 150 recorded this February. But experts say unless their numbers touch at least 800, it cannot be a remarkable growth.