Use of toxic drug brings down vulture count

The population of the scavenger birds has come down from four crore to 19,000 in a span of over three decades.
There are only 150-odd vultures left in the wild in TN, of which the White-Rumped Vulture accounts for 122 numbers. (Photo | Wikimedia Commons)
There are only 150-odd vultures left in the wild in TN, of which the White-Rumped Vulture accounts for 122 numbers. (Photo | Wikimedia Commons)

NEW DELHI: The lack of funds for care and rampant use of toxic chemicals/medicines have significantly contributed to the dwindling population of vultures across the country. The population of vultures – the natural scavengers – has come down from 4 crore to 19,000 in a span of over three decades.

Vultures are important for the ecosystem, as they prevent an outbreak of epidemics. In the absence of it, the number of feral dogs’ population increases and they become carriers of several diseases that affect humans, wildlife and livestock.

When the Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav visited the Pinjore-based Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre, he announced the release of vultures in the wild soon. However, he was silent on the rampant use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), which are toxic to vultures, within 100 km of the center. 

Experts say that once the birds are released, they will find their food within 100 km and may fall prey to NSAID. Recently, experts conducted a survey and carcass sampling within 100 km of the Pinjore centre. The survey report, which is yet to be made public, shows large-scale use of NSAID. In 2004, American scientist Lindsay Oaks discovered that Diclofenac – an NSAID -- was the cause behind the vultures’ declining population. This drug caused visceral gout – a disease in the accumulation of uric acid crystals on organs, particularly the kidneys. After the findings, the government banned the use of Diclofenac in 2008.

“The drug’s illegal use through human formulation has continued,” said Sachin Ranade, a vulture scientist. “In 2015, again, the government banned large vials (5-50 ml) of Diclofenac and allowed only 2-3 ml vials for human use which drugs company protested and took the matter to court. The Delhi High Court overruled and continued the ban,” said Ranade.

Later, scientists found that more NSAID identified as aceclofenac, nimesulide, and ketoprofen proved toxic to vultures. In September 2022, a Delhi-based lawyer and RTI activist, Gaurav Bansal, filed a petition in the HC asking for a ban on the three NSAID.

According to Bansal, the court asked for advice from institutions like Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), the main drug regulatory body. The BNHS supported the ban on NSAID. “The CDSCO stand is unclear,” said Bansal. 

“Last year, we visited chemist shops of every tehsil/block where we found NSAID being sold openly as the people were ignorant about alternatives within the range of 100 km of the Pinjore centre,” said Vibhash Pandey, BNHS Director. Pandey said two alternative medicines – Tolfenamic and Meloxicam, which proved safe enough for vultures -- are available but are not popular among vets. “We get around Rs 6 crore budget to maintain four centres,” says Pandey. 


Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are highly toxic to vultures who may consume it via dead cows or cattle.

Visceral gout is a disease where the accumulation of uric acid crystals in different organs, including the liver, causes severe renal damage

Diclofenac: Causes kidney failure
A prodrug that quickly metabolises into diclofenac
Nimesulide: Induces kidney failure
Ketorprofane: Causes visceral grout


  • Tolfenamic
  • Meloxicam


  • 2004 Scientists discover Diclofenac is behind mass deaths of vultures
  • 2008 Government of India (GoI) bans Diclofenac for animal use
  • 2015 GoI bans the sale of large vials of Diclofenac
  • 2016 Scientists identify three more NSAID toxic to vultures
  • 2022 Activists file a petition to put a ban on the three NSAID

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