Banned painkiller continues to kill vultures

Lucknow: Even though use of painkiller diclofenac on animals has been banned in India, it continues to take a toll on the vulture population in the country.

Heavy content of diclofenac, which is poisonous for vultures, has been detected on samples of dead animals during tests carried out by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute.

The test, which was carried out on liver samples of dead animals provided by Bombay Natural History Society, concluded that the percentage of diclofenac was very high in seven percent samples, Professor A K Sharma, an IVRI scientist who is researching on causes of vulture deaths, told over phone.

During an international research conducted in 2004, it was found that if animals who are administered diclofenac are eaten by vultures, it results in the death of the bird.

"This drug affects the kidneys of vultures who eat such animals and in 96 per cent cases this medicine is responsible for their death," Sharma said.

He said government banned use of the anti-inflammatory drug on animals, but it is still being used by human beings.

Till 2009, high quantity of diclofenac in dead animals was detected, Sharma said, adding that there was a possibility that as the drug is still being used on human beings, it may still be used on animals in villages and remote areas, as pointed out by IVRI research.

Dr Vishnu Prakash, incharge of National Vulture Conservation Centre at Pinjore in Haryana, said the total population of vultures, which help in maintaining ecological balance, was around four crore in the country in 1980. It has now been reduced to merely two lakh.

As a female vulture hatches only one egg in a year, the process of increasing the bird`s population is very slow, Sharma said.

He said it is essential to categorise vultures as an endangered species. At present work on conserving the bird was being carried out in Haryana, Assam and West Bengal, he added.

The project period has been extended till August this year and samples more were being tested, Sharma said. Other reasons responsible for near extinction of vultures were also being probed, he added.