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Local increase in vultures in Nepal

…thanks to diclofenac campaign

The number of White-rumped Gyps bengalensis and Slender-billed Gyps tenuirostris Vulture nests recorded west of Narayani Chitwan National Park / Buffer Zone Area, Nawalparasi District, Nepal, has doubled in two years, as a result of measures taken to reduce and replace the use of a drug toxic to vultures.

In around a decade, global numbers of both species have declined by over 95 percent, (over 99 percent in the case of White-rumped Vulture), and both are now classified as Critically Endangered. The decline is due to the veterinary use of the Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) diclofenac, which causes renal failure in vultures that feed on the carcasses of treated cattle.

But a study of 11 of Nepal’s 75 administrative districts by Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN, BirdLife in Nepal) finds that the use of diclofenac has dropped by 90 percent since 2006, thanks to work by BCN and its partners, notably the Nepalese government (Department of Drug Administrative and Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation).BCN is working collaboratively for a complete phasing out of diclofenac and other harmful NSAID drugs from the market. Support has come not only from conservation organisations such as RSPB (Birdlife in the UK), Zoological Society of London and WWF, but also from Nepal’s Department of Drug Administration, Department of Livestock Services, local veterinary and para-veterinary practitioners, local pharmacists, pharmaceuticals distributors associations and local communities. In ten districts of western Nepal including Chitwan, BCN has replaced half a million Rupees ($8,000) worth of diclofenac with the safe and equally effective alternative drug, meloxicam.

In collaboration with a number of government and non-governmental agencies, over the last five years BCN has also conducted a massive conservation-awareness programme throughout Nepal, highlighting the importance of vultures in maintaining balanced ecosystems.

And in a further attempt to conserve vultures, BCN has established a community-run Jatayu (Vulture) Restaurant at Pithauli, Nawalparasi District. The entire management of this restaurant, which provides vultures with cattle carcasses known to be uncontaminated with diclofenac, is done by the local community with technical support from BCN, and financial support from the UN Development Programme’s Global Environment Facility and RSPB. BCN is now identifying communities who can run similar restaurants in the Pokhara area as well as Rupandehi, Kapilvastu and Dang Districts. However, for restaurants to be effective they need to be part of a coordinated strategy of increasing conservation awareness in pharmacies, vets, and local communities, the removal of diclofenac and swapping it for meloxicam, local and the provision of safe meat. This strategy is how BCN is getting results.

“There are early indications that the mortality of the vulture population has been reduced but not stopped”, said Dr Hem Sagar Baral, Chief Executive of Bird Conservation Nepal. “There were 21 nests in this area in 2004, and 17 in both 2005 and 2006; this year there were 32. Recent discovery of nests in Pokhara Valley and Kailali district have been very encouraging, but sadly all the nests are extremely vulnerable. We have reports that three nest trees of the Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vulture at Pokhara Valley have been cut while the birds were sitting on the nest. These instances tell us that there is more work to do and help is sought from people at all levels.”

However, despite this positive news from Nepal the overall trend across south Asia remains one of serious continuing decline.

4th July 2014