London: A project hopes to start releasing captive-bred birds into the wild by 2016, after experiencing the devastation wrought by a drug on Asian vulture populations.
The Saving Asia`s Vultures from Extinction (Save) programme says it plans to release up to 25 birds into a 30,000-sq-km drug-free "safe zone", the BBC reported.
Diclofenac - used by vets on cattle - was identified as causing a crash in vulture numbers and banned by India.
But Save says that the version for human use is still given illegally to cattle.
Diclofenac was banned for use by vets and farmers in 2006 because of its effect on vultures that feed on livestock carcasses.
The link between the anti-inflammatory drug, used to reduce swelling in injured or diseased animals, and the devastating demise of Asia`s vulture populations was firmly established in 2004.
Tests on captive vultures fed carcass flesh traced with the drug produced symptoms that were strikingly similar to those witnessed in sick birds in the wild.
Experts said vultures feeding on cattle either died from acute kidney failure within a few days or lost their ability to reproduce.
Rinkita Gurav from the Bombay Natural History Society - a member of the international Save consortium - said that it was vital to "remove diclofenac from the market completely".
The demise of three species of vulture in South Asia has been directly link to the presence of diclofenac in the environment. These are the oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris).
In order to ensure that the species affected do not disappear completely from the wild, Save identified a number of priorities.
One of these was to establish a number of vast "safe zones" for the captive-bred birds to be released within.
The areas have a radius of 100km (62 miles), and the consortium has identified six such areas - some of which cross national borders into Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Another key priority identified by Save was the establishment of a captive-breeding programme, which would provide the birds to be released back into the wider environment, once it was safe to do so.
Since 2004, a number of vulture breeding centres have been set up in Nepal and Pakistan, as well as in India.