In the 1990s, a dramatic decline in the population of vultures in India was observed. This decline was eventually linked to the widespread use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in livestock.
Diclofenac is a painkiller that is commonly used to treat inflammation and pain in cattle and other animals. However, when vultures consume the carcasses of animals that have been treated with diclofenac, the drug can be toxic to the birds. As a result, the vulture population in India has been severely impacted, with some species experiencing declines of up to 99%.
The decline in vulture populations has had significant ecological consequences. Vultures play a vital role in the ecosystem by consuming the carcasses of dead animals and helping to prevent the spread of disease. With fewer vultures present to perform this role, the incidence of diseases such as rabies has increased.
In response to the vulture decline, the Indian government banned the use of diclofenac in livestock in 2006. However, the ban has been difficult to enforce, and the drug is still being used in some parts of the country. Conservation efforts, including the establishment of vulture safe zones and the creation of a vulture breeding program, are also being undertaken to help rebuild vulture populations.