Mumbai: A scientific study has shown that seven years after the pain killer Diclofenac was banned by the central government for veterinary use due to its fatal effect on vultures, it has been found that more than 60% farmers in India still give the human variant of the drug to their cattle.
Ten years ago, veterinary Diclofenac was found to be the cause of the sudden death of vultures in Asia due to kidney failure. The vulture population in India, which was once 40 million, is now in the thousands, putting these birds on the endangered list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Vultures devour cattle carcasses and act as a clean and swift disposal system, consuming infected and decayed animals before any disease could spread from them. “Vultures have now been replaced by dogs and rats who act as carriers for diseases like rabies and plague. Research has also shown an increase in these diseases since the disappearance of vultures,” says Percy Avari, professor of poultry science at Bombay Veterinary College.
There are now three vulture breeding centres in West Bengal, Haryana and Assam, which have managed to breed around 280 vultures and 61 fledglings in captivity along with a few hundred more at two centres in Nepal and Pakistan.
“We have identified Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) all over India on the basis of Diclofenac usage in the area, less number of settlements and prior vulture habitation. One of our first choices for a VSZ was the area bordering Nepal,” says Ian Barber, representative of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds.
The alternative introduced after the ban of the Rs30 veterinary Diclofenac vial was Meloxicam, which is priced at a steep Rs100 per vial, dissuading many from using it. A petition has been sent to the prime minister to reduce the size of human Diclofenac bottles in the market, so that villagers avoid buying them for cattle.
DNA/ Karishma Goenka