On Monday the Ministry of Environment and Forests released the “Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2020 – 2025” with an approximate budget of Rs. 207 crores. According to the plan, the centre will regulate the sale of veterinary non – steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) by allowing their distribution only by prescriptions and only for the treatment of livestock by qualified veterinarians.
NSAIDs was banned in 2006 but can be used as a painkiller for cattle. When the cattle die, the vultures feed on the carcass which may lead to the death of the vultures. According to the minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, “Just 0.4-0.7% of animal carcasses contaminated with Diclofenac were sufficient to decimate 99% of vulture populations. Due to dedicated conservation efforts, the vulture population is stabilizing.”
NSAIDs are currently available easily over the counter which has resulted in its widespread use, endangering vultures. The Action Plan also states that the new molecules of NSAIDS should be released in the market only after they are tested and deemed safe for vultures. If a drug is found toxic to the vultures, the plan aims to remove it from the market automatically. This system is put in place under the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). The plan provides for systematic disposal of animals which have died due to the treatment where NSAIDS are involved so that vultures do not get exposed to such carcasses.
According to the plan, more conservation and breeding centres have to be built across the country apart from the already 8 existing conservation and breeding centres for vultures. A special breeding and conservation plan will be launched for the red-headed vulture and the Egyptian vulture whose populations have decreased over 80% in the recent years. At least one “Vulture Safe Zone” has to be set up in every state for the conservation of the remaining vulture population.
For different geographical regions, four different vulture rescue zones have been set up, namely, Pinjore, Bhopal, Guwahati and Hyderabad for Northern, Central, North Eastern and Southern parts of India respectively.
The Five Year Plan aims to carry out a coordinated nationwide count of the vultures to provide an estimation of the surviving vulture population in India and also create a database on the emerging threats to vultures like electrocution and collision.