Millions of vultures used to be part of the fabric of India, just like rickshaws, tigers and the Taj Mahal. In the late 1990s, ornithologists started to discover that vultures were dying with no obvious cause and raised the first alarm bells.
Vutures help balancing the eco system
For religious reasons, cows are sacred creatures in India. When they died, they used to be removed by carion eating vultures. Meanwhile the role of vultures has been partly taken over by a rising number of feral dogs, increasing the risk for humans of being attacked and infected with rabies.
After initial search for infectious agents, a groundbreaking discovery was made by detecting residues of diclofenac, a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), in cattle carcasses. This drug turned out to be extremely toxic for vultures.
Quickly, this observation resulted in a ban of the use of diclofenac in veterinary medicine in the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, a number of activities were started.
Saving vultures from extinction
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health helped through dropping its patent rights for meloxicam in India. Meloxicam was identified as a replacement for diclofenac. Additionally, BIAH started an information and awareness campaign together with the British ‘Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) visiting pharmaceutical production sites in India. Meloxicam is now the leading antiinflammatory veterinary drug for cattle.
BIAH has committed itself to help by providing both, financial and technical support according to its vision to help improve the health of animals and humans alike. Currently, BIAH is sponsoring a captive breeding program to reestablish a viable population of vultures in the future as well as creating “vulture safe” zones, allowing these animals to live without the risk of being poisoned by diclofenac.