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New hope for Wayanad’s vultures

Curbs on Diclofenac give fresh hopes to vulture conservationists

September 01, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 28, 2016 02:45 pm IST - KALPETTA:

Fresh lease of life:A White–rumped vulture sighted during a recent survey inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

Fresh lease of life:A White–rumped vulture sighted during a recent survey inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

Wayanad’s majestic vultures may yet live on. Vulture conservationists in the State are upbeat over the curbs on Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug acknowledged to have caused the decimation of vultures in the Indian subcontinent. It had cast its pall over Wayanad too.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had recently restricted human formulations of injectable Diclofenac to single, 3 ml dose packs. The larger multi-dose vials that used to deluge the market have been the main source of Diclofenac for veterinary use, being more convenient for illegally treating cattle, which requires much larger doses than humans, than using several small vials. So the government restriction is now hoped to reduce the misuse of Diclofenac, says C. Sasikumar, ornithologist and vulture conservationist working in the Western Ghats.

Diclofenac for veterinary use was banned in the country in 2006, but was available in 30ml vial even as late as last year in areas adjacent to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, says C.K. Vishnudas, a field ornithologist who conducted a study on the impact of post-ban availability of the drug recently, as part of a vulture conservation programme in South India. As many as 35 White-rumped vultures, five Red-headed vultures and two Indian vultures were sighted during a recent survey in the sanctuary.

The Wayanad sanctuary is the only region where vultures thrive in the State. The breeding population of White-rumped vultures, Red-headed vultures, and Indian vultures in the sanctuary depends entirely on wild carcasses for food. The availability of Diclofenac in the vicinity had posed a serious threat to the surviving vulture population, he adds. There is a large cattle population in the tribal settlements near the sanctuary.

“The pharmacies in the area should be monitored strictly to ensure that they are not selling higher volumes of Diclofenac. The carcasses of cattle in the habitats must also be watched regularly to identify the level of Diclofenac residue in them,’’ Mr. Sasikumar added.

As the three species of South Asian vultures have declined nearly 97 per cent in the country, the restrictions on Diclofenac will have far reaching effects, says Mr. Chris Bowden, programme officer, SAVE, a global platform for Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction.

A White-rumped vulture sighted inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

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