South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme: saving vultures from extinction

Vultures are among the most highly threatened bird species on the planet, having experienced catastrophic population declines since the 1990s. Various efforts are being done to save these birds. IUCN is working across national borders to ensure vulture survival through the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme.

Ms Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director of IUCN Asia and Mr Madhu Prasad Regmi, Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of the Government of Nepal chair the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme’s 5th Regional Steering Committee.

Last 20 November 2015, the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme’s fifth Regional Steering Committee meeting was held at Hotel Soaltee Crown Plaza, Kathmandu, Nepal. Representatives from governments, NGOs and research institutions from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan gathered to discuss the progress that has been made toward vulture conservation in the region.

Over the past 20 years in South Asia, the population sizes of three vulture species have been reduced by more than 90 percent. These three species, the white-rumped vulture (Gyps begalensis), the Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris), face extinction because of a drug called diclofenac.

Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is used to treat livestock. However, the drug, when consumed by vultures eating the livestock carcasses, leads to renal failure and death. Other NSAIDs also have been shown to be toxic to the birds. To combat this problem, the veterinary use of the drug has now been banned in all four countries represented in the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme. Additionally, other measures have been taken, or are being planned, to increase vulture populations, including the creation of vulture safe zones (VSZs), ex-situ vulture breeding and re-introduction, and the opening of vulture-safe feeding ’restaurants’. One of the biggest victories of the year was India's banning of large vial sizes of diclofenac, which were being purchased for 'human use' but being illegally used for livestock.

Highlighting the importance of the regional program, Mr Madhu Prasad Regmi, Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation of the Government of Nepal explained that “it is our duty and obligation to protect and conserve biodiversity, not only for us but for generations to come […] we need a concerted force to achieve such a goal in conserving biodiversity.”

Ms Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director of IUCN Asia noted that the program is “a great demonstration of the commitment of South Asian governments.” She also expressed possibilities at looking at an Asia wide, as well as an Asia-Africa, programme: “at the moment, the program focuses only on South Asia, but the state of vultures in Southeast Asia is also very bad. The status in Africa has also become extremely worrying. So there is potential that we could be looking at an Asia-Africa programme.”

While the future of the programme will be developed over time, the successes in the last five years are laudable. Significant work is still to be done in the conservation of vultures, but, as Mr. Regmi emphasized, “we are ready to join hands with our conservation partners to make our efforts successful.

During the meeting representatives of the member countries provided updates regarding vulture conservation action being undertaken in their respective countries.

Read more about recent vulture conservation efforts in South Asia in the following links:


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