The vulture is a patient bird, but the wait to see the painkiller Diclofenac’s sale for veterinary use stopped has whittled their numbers in the city to a mere 12, including the lone inmate at the Katraj Zoo. When vultures feed on cattle carrion with traces of Diclofenac, it leads to death by kidney failure in the birds.
However, hope seems to be taking wing for these majestic birds thanks to an emerging collaboration between chemists and animal conservationists in Ratnagiri and Pune districts, whereby chemists will stop selling the painkiller in its injectable form, overthe- counter.
Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra (SNM), an organisation working for the preservation of birds and specifically vultures, has been running a campaign since January 2012 to generate awareness among chemists, veterinarians and the farming community in Ratnagiri district about vulture conservation.
After positive response from Ratnagiri, SNM approached Pune district chemists who, too, have responded positively. Mahendra Pitaliya, chief coordinator, chemists association of Pune district, welcomed the move and said, “We are aware about the problem caused to vultures due to widespread use of Diclofenac for livestock, and we do not sell this drug over-the-counter.
However, it is mostly used in rural areas and this can cause problems. We will create awareness among the 2,500 members of our association.” SNM received its first positive response in Ratnagiri taluka, where Hamid Dalwai, taluka president of the Ratnagiri Chemists and Druggists Association, kickstarted the awareness drive amongst chemists by displaying a banner announcing ‘Diclofenac will not be sold for veterinary purposes’ in the pharmacy.
Pravin Mone, secretary of the Ratnagiri association, said, “We have 450 members.” All have decided to shun selling this drug in the injectable form. We have prepared posters and distributed them to the members. We will now be meeting all veterinarians to request them not to prescribe this painkiller for cattle.”
Bhau Katdare, secretary, SNM, said, “Even though it was banned for cattle use, the drug is still available for human use. Therefore, the vets prescribed it, and chemists sold it to be used for cattle. We approached vets and chemists in Ratnagiri to put a stop to this. About 53 of them responded.”
“The number of vultures in Pune district is decreasing at an alarming rate, say wildlife conservationists. It is said that Pune had about 450 vultures in the past, but only 100-odd vultures are left in the district now, which used to be a major breeding ground for the bird till a few years ago.
There are only 12 birds left in the city, including the one at the Katraj Zoo. The situation is so bad that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the vulture as a critically endangered bird,” said Dr Rajkumar Jadhav, superintendent, Katraj Zoo who also takes care of the lone vulture there.
|SNM is distributing posters to create awareness about the ill-effects of the drug use
He added, “When a vulture eats the carcass of a dead animal that was injected with Diclofenac, it accumulates uric acid in the bird, leading to kidney failure. It is present in sufficient quantity in the carcasses of animals to be ingested in lethal quantities by vultures. In comparison, Meloxicam is a safer alternative.”
In May 2003, US veterinarian Dr Lindsay Oaks established that use of Diclofenac is positively correlated to vulture mortality than any other factor. The fact was proved in subsequent studies. Because of this, Drug Controller General of India banned the drug for cattle use in May 2006.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had in 2003 requested the State forest department to initiate a project to count the population of endangered vultures in Maharashtra.
Out of the six species of vultures commonly found in Maharashtra — Black (or King), Cineverous, Indian Griffon, Indian Longbilled, Whitebacked and the White Scavenger — the Whitebacked Vulture has registered 95 per cent fall in numbers.
► We’re aware about the problem due to widespread use Diclofenac for livestock. We will urge all our association members to stop selling the drug over-the-counter
- Mahendra Pitaliya, Pune Chemist Aaan