In the last 20 years, the South Asian vulture population has gone down by 97 per cent. Even in Nepal, hailed for its work in vulture conservation, they are declining at the average rate of 17 per cent per year. The decline, attributed mainly to poisoning caused by the residue of the veterinary drug Diclofenac in carrion, has been so bad that three of eight vulture species found in Nepal are now critically endangered.
Nepal recently launched a ten-year program titled Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (SAVE). The SAVE consortium brings together the Nepal government, NGOs working in wildlife conservation, and organisations in India and the UK to revive the dwindling vulture population.
"It is not possible to protect vultures through the efforts of a single country. A trans-boundary partnership is necessary to put policies in place that will displace Diclofenac across the region," says Hum Gurung, CEO of Bird Conservation Nepal.
Recognising the devastating effect of Diclofenac on the vulture population, governments in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan banned its sale in 2006. But the use of the drug to treat livestock continues unabated. The problem has been compounded by the use of human diclofenac, which is still legal. SAVE is now working to replace the drug with Meloxicam, a much safer option, and also to protect vulture habitat and run a breeding centre for endangered vulture species.
Six 'vulture restaurants' that provide Diclofenac-free meat and a breeding centre are already in operation in the country. Diclofenac-free zones have been declared in eleven districts. With SAVE, experts hope to raise funds and awareness and get countries to implement vulture-safe zones across Nepal's borders.