How a pain killer led to the wiping out of 90% population of Indian vultures
Numerous studies were carried but the cause of the decline in the Indian vulture population still remained elusive.
Vultures are natural scavengers and play a very important role in maintaining the ecological balance of our environment. However, since the nineties, there has been a steady decline in the number of vultures. The decline in the vulture population has led to an increase in the population of other scavengers like stray dogs and the associated increase in the incidence of rabies.
The sudden dip in the population of Indian Vulture had conservationists worried. However, they were not able to pinpoint the exact cause of this sudden dip in the vulture population. One of the causes investigated was the increased use of DDT which somehow found its way into the food chain. DDT was seen to delay the shell formation of the eggs of birds. However, this cause was negated and experts started to look for other causes.
Studies Carried Out To Find The Reason Of Decline in Indian Vulture Population
Numerous studies were carried but the cause of the decline in the vulture population still remained elusive. The situation became so grim, the international scientific community also quest to find out the exact cause of the falling Vulture population. The study was also hampered by laws that prohibited killing vultures in India due to religious sentiments of Hindus who regarded Vultures as sacred.
Finding dead Vultures was very rare and the high summer temperatures also exacerbated the problem. The study was headed by Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London. He found no abnormal traces of pesticide or industrial pollutants in the bodies of the vultures.
Dr Lindsay Oaks And Team At The Peregrine Fund Found The Cause
After a lot of hard labour, a team led by Dr Lindsay Oaks and his team at The Peregrine Fund in 2003 found that the culprit was Diclofenac. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is widely used to treat pain and inflammation. The drug has been in veterinary use since the beginning of the Nineties.
The drug was found to be lethal to vultures and the drug got into the body when the vultures scavenged on dead animals that were given Diclofenac for different ailments. Studies revealed that if the carcass contained 1% diclofenac it will be fatal for vultures while in real times concentrations of 10% were seen in carcasses.
There are five different species of Vultures in India and after 1990 there was a 90 to 95% decline in the vulture population in India. The findings prompted the Indian government to completely ban the use of Diclofenac in animals.