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Microsoft word - zsl abstract 10.11.2009.docSOUTH ASIA VULTURES:
CATASTROPHIC DECLINES AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
The Meeting Rooms, The Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY Chair: Andrew Routh, Chief Veterinary Officer, ZSL
Declines in large raptors
Jemima Parry-Jones MBE, Director of the International Centre for Birds of Prey Global y the large raptors are under threat. Habitat decline, increasing human populations, lead poisoning, tribal medicine, legal and il egal trade, shooting, electrocution and other causes contribute to the decline of raptors, particularly the large eagles and vultures. Although many species stil may not be listed as vulnerable or endangered, by definition they most likely are. After al , fish rely on water to survive, without water there are no fish. Similarly if particular species rely on a particular habitat and that is being destroyed then common sense tel s us that the species in question are going to decline. One of the downfal s of the larger raptors is that they are long-lived, slow to reproduce and produce low numbers of young, and thus are less adaptable than smal er species, such as Sadly, there are many examples. Probably the best known is the California condor, which was brought to extinction in the wild in the 1980s. It was only when a $3 mil ion a year programme was instigated that the real cause was discovered to be lead poisoning from My introduction to the rest of this programme this evening was through the Parsis, who traditional y have their dead eaten by vultures, however in the 1990s that was no longer happening … little did we know at that time that diclofenac was the problem.
Diagnosing the cause of the Asian vulture decline
Rhys Green, RSPB & University of Cambridge Large populations of three species of vultures endemic to south Asia existed in the Indian subcontinent until the early 1990s. Then a very rapid decline began which left only a few percent of the original numbers alive by the year 2000. The declines have continued since then and have been especial y rapid for the Oriental white-backed vulture, whose population in the subcontinent in 2007 was estimated to be about one-thousandth of what it had been 15 years earlier. Population surveys showed that the rate of decline was so rapid that an increased death rate of adult birds must be its main mechanism. Post mortem examinations showed that the majority of dead vultures had visceral gout, due to kidney damage. The realisation that diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that can cause kidney failure in birds, had become a widely used veterinary medicine led to the identification of diclofenac poisoning as a potential cause of the decline. Dead vultures with gout al had traces of diclofenac in their tissues. Vultures treated experimental y with the drug died with gout and the same kidney damage as dead birds found in the wild. Surveys of diclofenac contamination of dead domestic ungulates left for scavengers in India, combined with vulture population model ing, show that the level of diclofenac contamination was sufficient for it to be the sole cause of the decline and that there is little scope for other causes to have contributed much. Removal of diclofenac from the food supply of vultures and its replacement with a non-toxic alternative is a prerequisite for
Finding solutions to the vulture conservation crisis
The population col apse of vultures in Asia has created an urgent need for solutions to this conservation crisis. An inter-linked programme of work has focused on conservation advocacy, applied research, the creation of “vulture safe zones” and captive breeding centres in order to halt the decline in vulture numbers. Advocacy work has focused at government level policies as wel as working at “grassroots” with farmers and vets, in order to spread the message about the role of diclofenac and vulture conservation. In 2006, the governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan announced a ban on the importation and production of veterinary diclofenac. In order to facilitate the diclofenac ban, it was necessary to find an alternative drug effective for treating cattle but of low toxicity to vultures. Questionnaire surveys of veterinarians, zoos and bird of prey centres on the treatment of vultures, raptors and other scavenging birds identified the drug meloxicam as a potential safe alternative to diclofenac, and also established toxicity concerns for other compounds. A programme of safety testing with meloxicam, undertaken in Southern Africa and India, established that meloxicam administered at the estimated maximum levels of exposure caused no adverse reactions in either the African or Asian vulture species. Meloxicam is now being promoted as a safe alternative drug in Asia with increasing numbers of companies manufacturing this product. Research is also underway to monitor the prevalence of diclofenac in livestock carcasses across Asia and to monitor vulture numbers, so that the effectiveness of the ban at protecting vultures can be accurately assessed. Efforts are underway to protect smal remaining vulture populations through the creation of “vulture safe zones” around surviving breeding colonies. A programme of diclofenac removal from areas surrounding colonies, local level advocacy work, providing safe food at the colonies and community involvement has provided early encouraging signs of success with numbers of breeding vultures increasing. Ongoing research is underway to determine the likely long-term effectiveness of this work. Due to the speed and scale of the population declines the capture and captive breeding of vultures was essential in order to prevent the extinction of vultures in the wild. The remote areas where vultures remain and the vertical cliffs and large trees that vultures nest in has created chal enging conditions for the safe capture and transport of these birds to the breeding centre. Teams of climbers and trappers in India and Nepal have now captured over 200 vultures for the centres, providing a vital core population for the captive breeding
Ensuring the Future – the role of conservation breeding and reintroduction
Nick Lindsay, Senior Curator – Zoo Projects, ZSL One of the main actions of the South Asia Vulture Recovery Programme is to establish populations of the Oriental white-backed vulture (OWBV), the long-bil ed vulture (LBV) and the slender-bil ed vulture (SBV) in a safe environment, away from diclofenac. A number of vulture conservation breeding centres are now operational in India, Nepal and Pakistan with the eventual aim that these centres wil be able to hold sufficient numbers of each species to ensure that populations can be re-established in the wild. The programme has been able to use the considerable experience of managing and breeding vultures available in zoos and other breeding centres to establish the vulture breeding centres. However, as this is the first project that has worked with such large numbers of vultures, it wil take some years before the best management strategies for each species is ful y understood. Over the past 5 years the main aims have been to col ect wild vultures for the centre and to train local personnel to manage these birds in the To ensure there wil be a viable population of each species in the long term (15–20 years) the aim is to work with at least 150 pairs of each species considering that these are long- lived vultures which produce only one egg per year and take 4–5 years to reach sexual maturity. Currently there are 3 centres in India and one each in Nepal and Pakistan. With plans to develop new centres based on existing populations of Oriental white-backed vultures in zoos in India there should be sufficient space to meet these needs. The ultimate goal is to produce enough young vultures each year to enable the re- establishment of populations once the environment is free of diclofenac. Although this may be some years away it is important to start to plan for the future and identify potential release sites. This in itself is a huge chal enge but possibly the greatest chal enge facing the programme is that of resources. Funding the centres over an extended period is key to the success of the programme but this is going to require a massive investment.
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