We all know that wildlife is an important pillar of our ecology and any disturbance or decrease in their numbers would destabilize our habitat. Even Hindu mythology preaches to refrain from unnecessary killing of animals. So, we never miss an opportunity to create a political hue and cry over killing of Cow for beef. But, are we concerned about the lives of other animals or birds? We are pretty sure that everyone knows the answer.
Even our National animal Tiger (For those who didn’t know the answer), came to the brink of extinction when we finally decided to do something about it. And since, Tiger was our national animal, Indian media cared to lend some of their precious propaganda time to this cause. Indian vultures have suffered the same fate or even worse as the Indian Tigers but nobody has come forward for their rescue.
This piece is an effort to bring to you the story of an apparent extinction of Indian vultures and the impact of it on our ecosystem.
1) Introduction: ‘Diclofenac’, the drug for livestock
The story begins with the use of an anti-inflammatory drug and a pain killer Diclofenac which is usually administered to livestock. But, even after veterinary care, if a cow dies, we Indians throw the body in open only to be consumed by Vultures. Dead animals were their primary source for food and in a way Vultures helped in proper decomposition of the bodies.
2) Boon for one becomes bane for other: Death of Vultures
Regular eating of animal carcasses who had been administered Diclofenac created another complication in the vultures causing Renal failures. This severe medical condition resulted in deaths of thousands of Vultures.
3) The alarming decline
The fatal impact of Diclofenac decimated all the species of vultures. The most affected one being White-Rumped Vulture (Gyps Bengalensis) with a decline of an unimaginable 99.7% in population. Other species like Indian Vulture and Himalayan Vulture too have waned between 90-98%.
4) The aftermath
The immediate effect of this ecological disaster was an explosion in the population of stray dogs and rats who now became the natural choice to eat off the carcass and dispose it. The latest data suggests that India has the largest number of carnivore stray dogs (estimated 18 million) and have become difficult to control. The cases of rabies due to dog bite are increasing day by day suggesting the obvious mayhem caused by them.
An unfortunate victim to the Vulture crisis is the Parsi community which believes that burial and cremation of dead bodies is irreverent. They believe in Vultures eating the remains of the cadaver and liberating the soul. But, with no Vultures, the dead bodies take up to 6 months to disappear. Hence, they had to unwillingly give up this tradition.
5) Government Ban on Diclofenac: Too little and maybe too late
Now, let us come to the role of government which stood as a mute spectator while these birds were dying. Despite the published findings of Dr. Lindsay Oaks in 2003 suggesting Diclofenac as culprit, the Indian government took 3 years to take this drug off the market. A replacement drug was worked upon and released quickly which was not harmful to the Vultures.