Vulture in India [UPSC]

Vulture in India [UPSC]

Vulture in India

Vulture in India

India has 9 species of vultures in the wild. They are the –

1. Oriental White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis)
2. Slender billed Vulture (Gyps tenuirostris)
3. Long billed Vulture (Gyps indicus)
4. Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
5. Red Headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus)
6. Indian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
7. Himalayan Griffon
8. Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and
9. Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).

Decline of vulture populations 1st recorded at – Keoladeo Ghana National Park,
Gyps genus – 97% decline by 2005.
Nepal and Pakistan also faced declines.
In India – White-backed Vulture (endangered), Slender billed Vulture and Long Billed
Vulture declined.
Red-headed vulture or king vulture, Slender billed Vulture and Long billed Vulture –
critically endangered.
Reason for decline was considered as decline in food availability or viral epidemic
disease but it was due to drug Diclofenac.

Vultures which used to be very common in Indian countryside some years ago are rarely seen nowadays. This is attributed to
(a) The destruction of their nesting sites by new invasive species.
(b) A drug used by cattle owners for treating their diseased cattle.
(c) Scarcity of food available to them.
(d) A widespread, persistent and fatal disease among them.
Prelims 2012

Diclofenac Sodium as the Probable Cause

A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) administered to reduce inflammation
and to reduce pain in certain conditions.
Diclofenac was given to cattles for reducing pain. The carcass of these cattles was eaten
by Vultures.
Vultures were unable to break down the chemical diclofenac and suffer from kidney
failure (NSAIDs are associated with adverse kidney (renal) failure which is caused due to
the reduction in synthesis of renal prostaglandins)

“Neck drooping” – this behavior of vultures just weeks before collapsing from trees is
sign or indication that birds are ill. Neck drooping is also reported in healthy birds under
hot conditions.

Alternative of Diclofenac – Meloxicam

2nd generation NSAID.
Better than Diclofenac for the treatment of livestock, with reduced risk of side effects.
Also approved for human use.

Q.) Diclofenac is banned but it is still in use. How’s that’s possible?

Indian govt. had banned it for use on cattles.
But it is not banned for human use and so same is used for cattles.
Human form of diclofenac is cheaper than Meloxicam

Significance of vultures in India

Keeps environment clean – by scavenging animal carcass.
Parsi community’s religious practice of disposing dead bodies. (see 4th point of next
question for details)
Primary removers of carrion in India and Africa.

Q.) What if Vultures would not be there?

Equilibrium between populations of other scavenging species will be affected.
Result in increase in putrefying carcasses.
Increasing risk of spread of Rabies and Anthrax – Movement of Feral dogs into carcass
Traditional custom of the Parsis of placing their dead in the “Towers of Silence” for
vultures to feed upon will be affected.

Life will be much harder for local hide and bone-collectors, who rely, on cleaned
carcasses in order to earn living.
Cattle owners will have to pay to have livestock carcasses buried or burnt.

Conservation of vultures

Vulture safety zones (VSZ)

Aim – to establish targeted awareness activities surroundings 150 km radius of vultures’
colonies so that no diclofenac or the veterinary toxic drugs are found in cattle carcasses, the
main food of vultures (to provide safe food).


1. Corbett to Katriya Ghat

  • Slender-billed vulture and white-backed vulture.
    Marshy grassland, Savannas and forests.

2. Dibrugarh (Assam) to North Lakhimpur (Arunachal pradesh)

  • Slender billed and white backed species of vulture

3. Central India covering Chhatisgarh, where white-backed and long-billed vultures are found.

How VSZ can be helpful?

Safe source of food that is free of contamination from veterinary drugs, poisons and
other agricultural chemicals.
A place where vultures can feed free from human disturbances.
Supplement the ever decreasing food base for vultures.
Increase their breeding success because of food availability.
An economical and practical way of disposing of old and unproductive cattle.
Help to reduce the risk of spreading diseases.
A place for scientists to study the biology and ecology of these threatened species.
An opportunity to raise public awareness on vulture conservation and to raise funds
An excellent opportunity for eco-tourists to observe these magnificent birds.

Vulture restaurants

Vulture restaurants

At this restaurant, tables are reserved only for the unique and rare vultures by
Maharashtra and Punjab forest departments.


Conserve the fast dwindling vulture population.
Diclofenac free carcasses of cattle.
Involvement of local communities in in-situ conservation.
People inform the forest department in case of the death of an animal in their village
and the department tests the dead animal for presence of diclofenac.
In their absence the department pays monetary benefits to the owner of the animal and
informer, transports it to the vulture restaurant.
Whenever a vulture nesting is found, conservation measures like providing safe food
near nesting trees, constant protection … from all sorts of disturbances, etc., are put in
place without delay.


Conservation of vulture from extinction
Community participation in conservation

Economic incentive to local cattle breeders
Phasing out the use of diclofenac
Dining spots
Punjab – Kathlore, Chandola and Chamraur
Maharastra – Gadchiroli, Thane, Nagpur, Nashik, Raigad districts

Breeding Centers in India

Vulture Breeding and Conservation Centre had already been established at –

  • o Pinjore, Haryana
    o Rani, Guwahati (Assam)
    o Buxa, West Bengal
    o Junagadh
    o Bhopal
    o Hyderabad
    o Bhubhaneshwar

India’s Role in Conservation

India moved a motion in IUCN in,2004 for vulture conservation, which was accepted in
the form of the IUCN resolution.
This resolution called upon Gyps Vulture Range countries to begin action to –

  • o Prevent all uses of diclofenac in veterinary applications.
    o Establishment of IUCN South Asian Task Force under the auspices of the IUCN
    and range countries to develop and implement national vulture recovery plans,
    including conservation breeding and release.

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