The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for vultures

Populations of Gyps vultures are slowly making a comeback

Project title: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for vultures

Location: Kanha Pench Corridor, Madhya Pradesh, India   

Project Background: Vultures play a significant ecological service as carrion feeders and disposers of disease-carrying carcasses. In the past decade, vulture populations, particularly those belonging to the Gyps species, have declined by over 95% across South Asia. The white-rumped vulture has suffered a population decline of more than 99.9% in just 15 years. The Indian and slender-billed vulture populations dropped by 97% in the same duration from 1992 to 2007.

Indiscrimate use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory veterinary drug, has been identified as the primary cause for the removal of nature’s primary scavengers from our landscapes. Municipalities will have to re-think whether it is economically sound to rebuild a new waste management system to dispose carcasses or breed and reintroduce vultures.

Several collaborative projects and initiatives to address the long-term survival of vulture species have been initiated across the South Asian region. More recently, in 2012, IUCN and the government of India were instrumental in bringing together the governments of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Nepal in agreeing to joint conservation and management and policy-level actions for the long-term conservation of South Asian vultures. The four countries also adopted the Regional Declaration on the Conservation of South Asia’s Critically Endangered Vulture Species, and formed a Regional Steering Committee (RSC) for South Asian vulture conservation, constituting membership from government and civil society. The secretarial and technical support for the functioning of the RSC is provided by IUCN.

Some of the key recommendations made by the RSC thus far (since 2012) include:

  • Need for similar national-level recovery plans, in order to build synergies between countries and maintain consistency in conservation approaches across the region
  • Development of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) proposal for a regional vulture recovery programme providing financial assistance to governments and civil societies to implement the plan
  • Need for a first of its kind TEEB analysis of vultures, in order for policy makers to be able to make informed decisions about the identification of Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs), as well as regulatory requirements for vulture-safe drug formulations

Objectives of the project: The goal of the project was to economically evaluate the ecosystem services provided by vultures and integrate them into policy interventions for vulture conservation in South Asia. To this end, the specific objectives were: 

  • Estimate the economic value of lost ecosystem services once provided by vultures across selected sites in India over the past decade
  • Estimate the economic costs of banning diclofenac and replacing it with other substitute nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Estimate the economic value of benefits from ecosystem services (including human health) as a result of a potential increase in vulture populations in the VSZs

Outputs: The project found that the present investment required in carcass disposal services for the next 50 years in rural areas is estimated to be around USD 5.50 million. The scavenging ability of 300 pairs of vultures is close to processing the potential of a medium sized carcass disposal plant (i.e. 60 carcasses per week). It is therefore economically more viable to invest in the breeding and re-introduction of vultures, and maintenance of VSZs instead of investing in carcass disposal plants. There is a marginal difference of USD 0.06 per 30 ml vial in the cost of human diclofenac and Indian formulation of meloxicam (an alternate medicine). Despite this, diclofenac continues to be used, especially by para-vets. 

Donor: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH India

Partner: Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)  

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