By Toby Galligan, Conservation Scientist
Veterinary diclofenac is banned in India, but 30 ml vials (ideal for treating cattle) are still available under the guise of human use only. In other words, manufacturers are circumventing the ban. While trained veterinarians understand the vulture-diclofenac problem, many untrained veterinarians and pharmacists do not; and so diclofenac contamination of vulture food continues.
For the three Critically Endangered Gyps vultures in South Asia, we need to help protect them in their natural environment ('in situ conservation management'), and work with captive birds ('ex situ conservation management'). Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres represent ex situ conservation action, while Provisional Vulture Safe Zones (PVSZs) represent in situ conservation action. There are four PVSZs currently supported by RSPB: three in northern India and one in southern Nepal. Each is centred on a remnant population of Gyps vulture. Conservation action in the form of advocacy, awareness raising and monitoring is undertaken by local organisations. Ultimately, through their hard work, the four PVSZ will expand and merge, creating one complete Vulture Safe Zone of approximately 120,000 km2 in size.
Ananya and I teamed up with BNHS Advocacy Officer Janki Teli and Conservation Scientist Mandar Kulkarni to tour the three PVSZs in India. We found diversity in the way each PVSZ team approaches advocacy and awareness raising. Here is a sample of this diversity. In the state of Uttarakhand, a PVSZ exists alongside the Corbett Tiger Reserve. Here Sumantha Ghosh and the Mahseer Conservancy tackle the vulture-diclofenac problem at the grass-roots. Mr Ghosh gains community support by highlighting the ecological, economical and cultural values of vultures. These values are apparent to the villagers of Ringora, where wildlife-watchers come to see the nesting white-backed vultures and contribute to the local economy at home-stays, gift shops and food outlets.
"Plugging vultures" at the World Waterfowl Day count (left to right: Janki, Sumantha Ghosh, the Deputy Forest Officer, Dr Sakat Bodala)
The PVSZ in the state of Uttar Pradesh encompasses the Dudwa National Park and Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. There are two teams here – Tarai Nature lead by Dr V. P. Singh, and the Katerniaghat Foundation led by Suresh Chaudhari. Dr Singh is a senior academic at a local university and an expert on northern Indian ecosystems. He has strong connections within the Forestry Department, Veterinarian Association and law enforcement. His discussions with the police chief of Kheri district have resulted in the first district to enforce the diclofenac ban.
On the edge of Dudhwa National park (left to right: Mandar, Dr Jaswant Singh Kaliar, Dr V P Singh and me)
Mr Chaudhari is one of the founding members of the Katernaighat foundation. Their goal is to convert the wildlife sanctuary into a national park. The conversion would benefit the local Gyps vultures directly, as cattle would be removed from the core area and government veterinarians would control animal health care in the park’s buffer zone; both actions thereby reducing he potential for diclofenac contamination of vulture food.
Within the Katernaighat Wildlife Sanctuary (left to right: me, Janki, Ananya, Mandar and Suresh)
In the state of Jharkhand, Satya Prakash and the Neo Human Foundation have formed a PVSZ encompassing the vultures of the town of Hazaribagh. Ingeniously, Mr Prakash advocated vulture conservation to the Drug Controller of Hazaribagh District and asked him to write and distribute a letter to all pharmacies asking them to account for their sales of diclofenac. This was enough to stop pharmacies in the district selling diclofenac in all its forms (don’t worry there are alternatives like Meloxicam that are better for cattle, humans and vultures alike). The Hazaribagh district is therefore the first district in India to be diclofenac-free. Mr Prakash plans to replicate this strategy throughout his PVSZ. We are keen to see this strategy replicated throughout India.
At the District Commissioner’s house (left to right: me, Ananya, Satya Prakash, Dr Manish Ranjan [the DC], and Mandar)
With thanks to Save Our Species for their valuable sponsorship, which helps us carry out this essential work. For more information on the SAVE consortium and its work, visit www.save-vultures.org/