By Ananya Mukherjee, Vulture Safe Zone Coordinator
Advocating a diclofenac-free zone means influencing people’s thoughts and opinions to bring about a positive response in not using diclofenac for veterinary purposes. The change was initiated in May 2006 when the Indian Government banned the veterinary use of diclofenac. Unfortunately, the ban didn't reach far enough and before long human forms of diclofenac were used to treat sick cattle. These human forms of the drug are currently being sold by most pharmacies in India with the label ‘Not for veterinary use’. Taking legal action against people using diclofenac is difficult when the vetenary form isn't commonly sold by pharmacies in India.
One particular problem is that the human form of diclofenac is much cheaper than alternative drugs like meloxicam which have been safety tested for vultures. The result is widespread usage of diclofenac on cattle which has led to the critically endangered status of the Gyps species of vultures as they feed on cattle carcasses treated with diclofenac. Campaigning for a diclofenac free zone meant the complete removal of diclofenac in the identified vulture safe zones i.e. places where vulture colonies have been identified.
In my last post in March I explained that technically a 100 km radius which is 100 percent diclofenac free could be a vulture-safe zone. One of the potential problems here is that most of these vulture-safe zones have a large number of cattle populations living in the region. This means people owning livestock and cattle would need to treat their sick cattle when they are ailing or suffering from old age. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are available in the Indian market on a large scale and very cheaply. Most people use diclofenac because it's the most commonly available drug in the South Asian subcontinent. It's cheap and readily available.
This large scale usage of diclofenac has led to the sharp decline in the vulture population especially the Gyps Indicus species i.e. the long billed, the slender billed and the white rumpled vulture species. To recover their population it's essential we remove the deadly diclofenac usage from the region.
The only non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug that can be used on cattle and has been safety tested on vultures is meloxicam.
So, on a mission to bring about change, I set off for India bracing myself for the soaring temperatures I was about to encounter!
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/