In a recent publication in Bird Conservation International (Galligan et al. Bird Conservation International doi:10.1017/S0959270919000169), presented the data of decrease in sales of diclofenac in veterinary pharmacies; an increase in sales in meloxicam (the vulture-safe alternative to diclofenac); and an increase in Critically Endangered White-rumped and Slender-billed Vultures population in Nepal. It is the result of integrated approach of vulture recovery programme; which involves advocacy, education, monitoring, research, supplementary feeding and site protection to help implement Nepal’s Vulture Conservation Action Plan. Not long after the catastrophic declines in vulture populations began in Nepal, Bird Conservation Nepal began monitoring vulture species throughout Nepal. “We use the country’s major roads as a series of transects on which we count vultures” Krishna Bhusal, Vulture Conservation Program Officer said. We analysed 14 years of data in this paper. We showed population declines between 2002 and 2012/13 followed by partial recoveries between 2012/13 and 2018. The partial recovery was better than expected if it was due to reproduction alone, suggesting that the populations are being bolstered by immigration as well.
Graph: Annual index values for populations of White-rumped Vulture (WRV: filled circles) and Slender-billed Vulture (SBV: open circles) Vultures in Nepal for 2002–2018, relative to 2002. Vertical lines for the WRV points are 95% confidence intervals from the quasi-Poisson model. Curves show results from the fitted piecewise log-linear regression models for WRV (solid line) and SBV (dashed line). Crosses in the upper part of the diagram show the estimated breakpoints and their 95% confidence intervals.
In Nepal, the diclofenac ban was followed by gradual but very effective implementation of a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) programme to advocate vulture conservation, raise awareness about the threat to vultures from veterinary diclofenac, and provide vultures with NSAID-free food at vulture restaurants. This programme encouraged the veterinary use in livestock of a vulture-safe alternative drug (meloxicam).
From 2012 onwards, Nepali veterinarians and livestock owners had stopped using diclofenac and were more often using meloxicam instead; and, as a result, Nepal’s vultures were no longer dying, and their numbers were being supplemented with survivors from other countries. These are super encouraging findings.
Ishana Thapa, Chief Executive Officer said “This news of recovery makes all our work over the years with local communities worthwhile, and shows how, once people and vets understand the threat that diclofenac poses, they are willing to use the safe alternatives like meloxicam.
Professor Rhys Green, a co-author of the paper and SAVE Chairman, points out “The Vulture Safe Zone advocacy programme was pioneered by conservationists in Nepal and reflects great credit on them. Also important has been monitoring by regular road transect surveys of the vultures and undercover surveys of drugs on offer in veterinary pharmacies. This monitoring has now been used to measure the programme’s effectiveness. The results show that, by combining government regulation with education, advocacy and monitoring, we can help these species to turn the corner from decline to recovery. This should provide great encouragement to those pursuing efforts of this kind in other countries across South Asia where toxic NSAIDs are recognised as the main factor suppressing vulture populations”.