Indian vulture centres get machines to detect poison

January 10th, 2009 - 10:08 am ICT by IANS  

Pinjore (Haryana), Jan 10 (IANS) A machine to detect the drug Diclofenac - widely believed to have led to the steep decline in the vulture population in India - may prove crucial in the battle to save these scavenger birds.The Britain-based charitable organisation Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is funding the placement of these machines at three vulture breeding centres - one each in Haryana, West Bengal and Assam.

The centres are run by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), an NGO engaged in nature conservation.

“The Diclofenac-detection machine will be put to use once we get the green signal from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) at Izzatnagar in Uttar Pradesh,” BNHS principal scientist (Ornithology) Vibhu Prakash told IANS.

The machines are meant to detect in the carcasses the presence of the drug fed to the birds in captivity.

“Scientists of the IVRI are conducting tests on the machine. Once they approve it, we will start using it,” Prakash said.

Till it was banned, Diclofenac was widely used in India as an anti-inflammatory pain relief drug for domestic animals, especially cattle.

Environmentalists suspect that many veterinarians still use it. The drug acts as a poison for vultures that eat the carcasses of treated cattle - they die of kidney failure within a few days.

“Though Diclofenac has been banned in the country, we don’t think that its use by vets has yet declined very significantly. As a precautionary measure, for some time we are feeding the vultures in captivity on animals that are reared in the centre,” said Chris Bowden, RSPB’s vulture programme manager, who is now in India.

“The Diclofenac-detection machine will, of course, help detect any traces of the banned drug in meat fed to the birds,” Bowden said.

From the mid-1990s, when vultures were among the most common birds in India, their number has declined drastically.

Three of the nine species of vultures found in India, white-backed, slender-billed and long-billed Gyps vultures, are almost extinct.

“In the beginning we thought that the vultures were dying due to some viral disease, but in 2003 it was found in Pakistan that the real culprit is Diclofenac. This was also subsequently confirmed in India and Nepal,” Prakash said.

The Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre in Pinjore has 116 vultures - 45 white-backed, 55 long-billed, 14 slender-billed and two Himalayan griffons.

Spread over five acres of Haryana forest department land in Jodhpur village near Pinjore off the Chandigarh-Shimla highway, the breeding centre lies close to the Bir Shikargah Wildlife Sanctuary.

“The figures from 2007 census showed continuing decline in the vulture population in the wild. Almost 99.9 percent white-backed vultures had already gone in 2007. The other two species most seriously affected - slender-billed and long-billed - are also still declining from what we know, although a further comprehensive survey would be needed to give more details on the exact extent of the decline so far,” said Bowden.

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