Nepal on Wednesday launched a 10-year programme to save vultures in the Indian subcontinent, which are struggling to recover from widespread poisoning by medication in the carrion they eat.

The programme, Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE), was jointly launched by the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Zoological Society of London and the Nepal government.

“The SAVE consortium is a timely strategic step to save the population of three critically endangered species of vultures along with five other threatened species that reside in Nepal,” said Yubaraj Bhusal of the Ministry for Forests and Soil Conservation.

Government records say the number of vultures in the region has declined by 97 per cent since 1990, as a result of consumption of carcasses containing Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug widely used on livestock which causes kidney failure in vultures.

Nine vulture species are found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to conservationists, eight of them are found in Nepal, all of them critically endangered.

“Though the use of Diclofenac is banned in Nepal, Bangladesh and India since 2006, the illegal use of this drug is still rampant, threatening long-term survival of vultures,” said Juddha Bahadur Gurung, secretary at the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

SAVE hopes to increase the number of vultures by reviving habitat suitable for their survival and preventing the birds from feeding on drug-contaminated carcasses. The group launched a similar programme in the Indian capital New Delhi last week.

“We are ready to develop partnerships with neighbouring countries, particularly in South Asia, for a trans-boundary approach to landscape management to save these birds of prey,” Mr Bhusal said.

Vultures are scavengers and crucial for maintaining ecological balance, as they clean the environment of carrion. Conservationists say the vulture population is declining significantly across the region due to inadequate conservation efforts by governments.

Nepal runs a vulture breeding centre, and six vulture feeding grounds, known as “vulture restaurants” that provide Diclofenac-free carcasses to the birds.