South Asia Vulture Conservation
It was estimated that vultures once removed some ten million tonnes of carrion a year
Photo: Vindo Gajjar
Conserving South Asia's Vultures
In a groundbreaking step towards vulture conservation in South Asia, the Governments of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan adopted a Regional Declaration on the Conservation of South Asia’s Critically Endangered Vulture Species, in New Delhi on 4th May 2012. The Governments pledged to develop and foster active partnerships amongst Governments, research institutions, civil society, private sector and international organizations to further accelerate vulture conservation in the region.
Vultures have commonly been shunned by the world as repulsive, yet they play a subtle but significant ecological service as carrion feeders and disposers of carcasses. In the past decade alone, vulture populations, particularly those belonging to the Gyps species, have declined by over 95 per cent across South Asia. The White-rumped Vulture has suffered a population decline of more than 99.9 per cent in just 15 years. The Indian and Slender-billed vulture populations dropped by 97 per cent in the same duration from 1992 to 2007.
It was estimated that vultures once removed some ten million tonnes of carrion a year. With the decrease in vultures, Carcasses are now being left to openly rot, leading to significant waste disposal problems, and a growing range of health concerns to humans. The easy availability of this food source has lead to a significant increase in the number of feral dogs, which is turn has led to an increase in dog attacks on humans, and a reported increase in incidence of rabies and anthrax amongst humans. Several studies indicate increased groundwater contamination and loss of income for farmers, whose fields have been fouled by the carcasses. The loss of vultures has also had cultural impacts on communities, like the Parsis, who traditionally offer their dead to the vultures in “Towers of Silence”. With the disappearance of vultures from the Towers of Silence, alternative ways to dispose of the dead, such as solar panels, have been installed.
The four Governments agreed to take stringent measures to remove drugs from the environment, including Diclofenac. Diclofenac has been identified as the single most important cause for the catastrophic decline of vulture populations across South Asia. Recognising the need to scale-up conservation breeding and reintroduction programmes, the Governments also agreed that there is an urgent need for trans-boundary Vulture Safe Zones to conserve vulture populations in the wild. A South Asia Regional Steering Committee (RSC) for Vulture Conservation has been established to coordinate and guide conservation and recovery measures in these four countries. India is the current chair of the RSC and IUCN India office functions as Secretariat.
Focus has been retained on three vulture species that are facing extinction in the wild: the White-rumped (Gyps bengalensis), the Indian (Gyps indicus) and the Slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris). All three species have been included on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. According to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, 10 of the world’s 23 vulture species are threatened with extinction, with the most rapid declines occurring in Asia.
- Symposium on Developing a Regional Response to the Conservation of South Asia’s Critically Endangered Vulture Species (New Delhi, 4 and 5 May 2012)
- RSC Meeting (New Delhi, 5 May 2012)
- RSC meeting at CBD COP 11 (Hyderabad, 11 October 2012)
- RSC meeting (New Delhi, 3 April 2013)
Mr. P.R. Sinha
IUCN India Country Office
T: +91 11 2652 7742+91 11 2652 7742; 4605 2583 (Ext. 210)
Three species of Gyps vultures are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Photo: Irshar Theba