Thar is one of the last strongholds for vultures in the wild in Asia, and is therefore critical to the survival of this species. The decline in vultures has resulted in the loss of critically important ecosystem services. Vultures are the largest scavengers responsible for removing carrion, and a reduction in their numbers has caused a growing range of health concerns and an enormous waste disposal problem. Animal carcasses that were once consumed by vultures are now being left to rot. In the absence of vultures there has been a significant rise in diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, rabies and anthrax diseases. The removal of carcasses also prevents the contamination of water bodies, hence another impact of the decline in vultures has been groundwater contamination.
Because of the decline in vultures, the food resource available to dogs has increased, causing a significant increase in the number of dogs in the absence of interspecies competition. Theincrease in the number of feral dogs has led to a rise in the number of dog attacks on humans.
A study undertaken by IUCN on valuating the scavenging services provided by vultures reported that the value of a single vulture is anywhere between PKR 2,491,208 (USD 23,763) and PKR 10,93,931 (USD 10,434) based purely on their scavenging role in an ecosystem, and concluded that it makes financial sense to invest in captive breeding and release vultures in the wild (augmenting their wild population and specifically in Vulture Safe), as compared to replacing their scavenging services with technological solutions provided by the state.
The project will therefore address two primary causes for the decline in vultures: one is the veterinary use of the drug diclofenac, and the other is habitat loss.
The conservation approach will entail a mix of captive breeding (ex-situ conservation) through the establishment of a Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC), and conservation in their natural habitat (in-situ conservation) through community-based protection of existing vulture nests in the wild. This will be complemented by efforts to enforce an existing ban on harmful NSAIDs such as Diclofenac while promoting the use of alternative vulture-safe drugs such as Meloxicam.
The interventions have been designed based on the recommendations given in the National Vulture Conservation Strategy and Action Plan developed by IUCN Pakistan with the support of regional consortium SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), Asia Regional Steering Committee and National Vulture Recovery Committee in coordination with the Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan.
Duration: 3 years