Vultures are nature’s own cleanup crew. These scavengers are known to be immensely effective in managing animal waste by feeding on animal carcasses that, otherwise, have no other ways of disintegrating quickly. Without the contribution of these birds in the ecosystem, the dangers of a slow-rotting animal carcass include air and water pollution as well as spreading of diseases. Once numbered in millions, there has been a sharp decline in the vulture population in India and its subcontinents in the past decade—a whopping 99 percent drop, to put it in perspective!
Several subspecies of the vultures including the Gyps Vulture, native to the Indian subcontinent, have been rapidly disappearing from our landscapes in the last decade creating much concern amongst researchers and conservationists globally. One of the primary reasons for this alarming drop in the population has been the indiscriminate use of an anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac among veterinarians.
Inexpensive, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Diclofenac is effective for treating pain and inflammation in cattle and humans but are toxic for vultures. When they scavenge on the carcasses of the Diclofenac-administered cattle, they stand the chance of having renal failure, resulting in their death. Although the drug is now formally banned for veterinary purpose in India, its usage continues unabated, especially by para-vets because it is cheaper than safer alternatives like Meloxicam.
With the vulture population alarmingly low, municipalities will have to install waste disposal plants to do the job the vultures have been doing for free all these years. Given the higher population of livestock in the rural areas, the present investment value required in carcass disposal services for the next 50 years in these areas is estimated to be around Rs 351.5 million ($ 5.85m) (estimates based on Indo-German Biodiversity Programme’s research). Just 600 vultures could've done the same amount of job for free if only we had let them live.
The ban on the toxic anti-inflammatory drug has been a step in the right direction. It would be economically prudent, however, to invest in the breeding and reintroduction of vultures and maintenance of Vulture Safe Zones (VSZ) instead of investing in carcass disposal plants. So, let’s invest in nature!
‘Lets Invest in Nature’ (#LetsInvestInNature) is a special series of video stories designed by the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme. It is dedicated to estimating and mainstreaming the true economic value of biodiversity in business-related decisions and policy making. Watch this short video for more information.