Ban on more drugs harmful for vultures welcome move, but more stringent steps needed: Experts

Nimesulide drug continues to possess a threat and should also be banned soon,;conservationsists say
Long-billed vulture, oriental white-backed vulture & slender-billed vulture found in India are critically endangered. Photo: iStock
Long-billed vulture, oriental white-backed vulture & slender-billed vulture found in India are critically endangered. Photo: iStock

Vulture conservationists and experts have welcomed the central government’s move to ban veterinary drugs aceclofenac and ketoprofen that are fatal for vultures, but suggest more needs to be done for creating a safe environment for the bird.

The vulture is a critically endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Three Gyps species namely long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus), oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) found in India are critically endangered.

The decision taken on the ban by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board in May is the second big step towards vulture conservation since the banning of Diclofenac in 2006..

Kishor Rithe, honorary secretary and interim director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), said the minutes were released recently and formal notification is yet to be received. 

In the representation, it was mentioned that ketoprofen and aceclofenac in cattle are equally toxic as Diclofenac and can kill vultures, according to the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which is with Down To Earth. 

Studies showed that the aceclofenac was rapidly metabolised into diclofenac and ketoprofen is toxic to Gyps vultures, it added.

The minutes further stated that the matter was referred to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying of the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare for expert opinion.

“The matter was being pursued since 2014 through multiple channels of the government,” Alka Dubey, state advocacy officer from BNHS, UP, who initiated the appeal said. “The issue was also taken up with the forest department, animal husbandry and food and drugs department.” 

BNHS, through its Vulture Conservation Policy and supported by Indian Veterinary Research Institute and Wildlife Institute of India, had submitted a detailed dossier requesting a ban on three drugs — aceclophenac, nimesulide and ketoprofen. 

S Bharathidasan, secretary of Arulagam and member of vulture conservation committee of Tamil Nadu, whose initiative succeeded in banning ketoprofen in multiple parts of the state in 2015, said: 

The banning of the two drugs is a big step, but it is essentially to strike these bans on all harmful drugs at once. There should be a blanket ban. In the recent decision nimesulide has been left out and another drug flunixin banned in TN has not been included in the demand.

The conservationist said if a separate written demand takes another six years to approve, it will not benefit in protecting the vultures. “There are only a handful of them left. Strict and immediate bans will only help to protect the endangered species.”

Rithe said the demand for ban on nimesulide continues and that conservationists would push for its ban as well.

Vibhu Prakash from BNHS said though it is a very important decision to ban aceclofenac and ketoprofen, the latter is not widely used, but toxic nonetheless. “However, nimesulide continues to possess a threat and should be banned soon,” he said.

Premsagar Mestri, a vulture conservationist from Raigad district of Maharashtra, said there is still a lack of data and reports on which drugs affect the vulture in a negative way. “There is a need for a detailed and wide study for the same to identify more drugs that cause harm to the birds,” he said.

Feeding on animals disposed of on dumping grounds pose another threat to the vultures, Mestri added. “These animals including cattle and stray dogs are often poisoned with insecticides or pesticides as a retaliatory action taken by locals. Though the effects are not seen immediately on vultures who feed on them, they eventually die in another location.”

He added that such threats loom majorly in Rajasthan, Gujarat and the northeast India. “Even migratory vultures fall prey to them and mass feed is seen in Bikaner. These vultures often die on their way to Israel. It is crucial that sampling and analyses of these dead vultures also happen to determine the cause,” he said.

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