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Govt on save-vulture task

Vultures have all but been wiped out in India - a crisis that has prompted the government and other neighbouring countries to devise measures to bring back the nature's scavenger from the brink of extinction.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2006 02:05 IST

Vultures have all but been wiped out in India - a crisis that has prompted the government and other neighbouring countries to devise measures to bring back the nature's scavenger from the brink of extinction.

In the next two days, the ministry of environment and forests will hold talks with counterparts from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal to decide on a plan for the subcontinent. The ministry also plans a national census to find the exact number of birds in India. Three species of the bird are found exclusively in the sub-continent -- Slender-billed, long-billed and white-billed. Over 90 per cent of the birds have died in the last decade. One of the major reasons for the deaths of thousands of vultures is Diclofenac, the anti-imflammatory drug. The ministry is lobbying for a ban on the drug. "The drug is widely used by vets as pain-killing injections. Studies have found that the drug causes renal failure or visceral gout. We have asked concerned ministries to ban the drug but they point out it will take some time," said a senior ministry official. Three states have already banned the drug.

The drug enters the vulture's body when it feeds on dead animals or humans injected with the drug. Which is why the vulture population has not been affected much in tribal areas, where the drug is not used.

The first confirmation of Diclofenac being the cause of vulture deaths came in May 2004 when studies in Pakistan showed that over 85 per cent of over 359 vultures have died because of renal failure caused by the drug. Within a year, Diclofenac was confirmed as the culprit for vulture deaths in India.

Among the alternatives to the drugs are Meloxican. Tests on vultures have shown that it does not have harmful effects. Another drug Ketoprofen is being tested in northern India's first vulture captive breeding zone in Pinjore, near Chandigarh.

First Published: Jan 31, 2006 02:05 IST