Oriental white-backed vultures


  • In October 2020, eight critically endangered Oriental white-backed vultures were released into the wild for the first time in India from the Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre (JCBC) situated at the Bir Shikargah Wildlife Sanctuary in Shivalik ranges of the Himalayan foothills in Haryana’s Pinjore.

About Oriental white-backed vultures

  • The Oriental white-backed vultures that were released in the wild are resident birds and not migratory, so they largely stay within a radius of 50-100 km of the breeding centre.

    Oriental white-backed vultures
    Source: The Hindu
  • It is an Old World vulturein the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks.
  • It is closely related to the European Griffon Vulture,  fulvus.
  • In 2016, the centre released two Himalayan Griffon vultures, bred in captivity for 10 years, into the wild.

Cause of Concerns

  • Once very common, vultures are on the verge of extinction in India. Uncontrolled veterinary usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), including Aceclofenac, Ketoprofen and Nimesulide, and the illegal use of the banned drug Diclofenac, are toxic to vultures if they feed on carcasses within 72 hours of the drugs’ administration to such livestock.
  • The vulture population in India was estimated at 40 million once. Populations of three species of vultures — the Oriental white-backed vulture, the Long-billed vulture and the Slender-billed vulture — have declined by over 97% since the 1990s, and that of the Oriental white-backed vultures by a drastic 99.9%.
  • It has been established that the vulture population was decimated by the veterinary usage of Diclofenac in India.

Use of Diclofenac

  • In 2006, the veterinary use of Diclofenac was banned.
  • Later, in 2015, after the Government of India placed restrictions on the size of Diclofenac vials for human consumption to just 3 ml, the prevalence of Diclofenac in cattle carcasses was reduced to less than 2%, which is safe for vultures.
  • But while the use of Diclofenac has gone down, its unlawful usage is still reported.
  • Moreover, the continued use of vulture toxic drugs, including Aceclofenac, Ketoprofen and Nimesulide in livestock treatment, could pose a major impediment to the reintroduction programme.
    • Aceclofenac is a “prodrug” of Diclofenac, which rapidly metabolises into Diclofenac after it’s administered to livestock. 
  • The key reason behind the use of Diclofenac is the fact that it’s a very low-cost drug.

Need of the Hour

  • The other two drugs — Ketoprofen and Nimesulide — also need to be banned.
  • Governments need to ensure that alternative drugs are subsidised to be cheaper than Diclofenac.

Back to Basics

  • Vulture species have been identified as one of the species for recovery programme for critically endangered species under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats.

Vulture Action Plan 2020-25

  • Conservation of vultures in the country
  • Launched by MOEFCC
  • There are nine recorded species of vultures in India — the Oriental white-backed, long-billed, slender-billed, Himalayan, red-headed, Egyptian, bearded, cinereous and the Eurasian Griffon.
  • National Vulture Survey once in four years
  • Reason: Vulture numbers saw a steep slide — as much as 90 per cent in some species — in India since the 1990s in one of the most drastic declines in bird populations.

IUCN Status

  • Critically-Endangered
    • Oriental white-backed,
    • Long-billed
    • Slender-billed vultures
    • Red-headed vultures
  • Endangered
    • Egyptian vulture is listed as ‘endangered’ while the
  • Near Threatened
    • Himalayan, bearded and cinereous vultures

Note- The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) also established the Vulture Conservation Breeding Programme

About Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre (VCBC)

  • The VCBC was established in 2001 to investigate the devastating declines in India’s Gyps species of vultures.
  • It’s a collaborative initiative between the BNHS and the Haryana Forest and Wildlife Department, to save the three resident Gyps species of vultures in the State the Oriental white-backed vulture, the Long-billed vulture, and Slender-billed vulture from looming extinction.

Source; The Hindu

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