KATHMANDU: Although Nepal boasts of having eight of nine vulture species which are found in South Asia, the indiscriminate use of Diclofenac — a veterinary medicine used to treat livestock, compounded by lack of awareness programmes, has been gradually reducing the number of such rare species. Consequently, the whole ecosystem of food chain has been threatened.
There are 23 vulture species around the world of which nine are found in South Asia. “Of those found in Nepal, four species are critically endangered,” says ornithologist Dr Hem Sagar Baral. They are slender-billed vulture, white-rumped vulture, red-headed vulture and Egyptian vulture.
According to him, there
is about 90 per cent decreases in the number of
these vultures within the last few decades.
Several studies carried
out in the past also pointed at a painkiller Diclofenac, which is used for the treatment of domestic animals, as the main cause for 97 per cent of death of vultures in the country.
Although its use was rampant across the country earlier, the government has banned the sale of same
due to the pressures of conservationists and animal rights activists.
Scientists found that
Diclofenac residues appeared present in 75 per cent of dead vultures as they
scavenge on livestock treated with the drug shortly before death.
Diclofenac causes kidney damage, increased serum uric acid concentrations, gout, and death.
Vultures have an important role in scavenging and clearing up carcasses. “The rapid declination of vultures in Asia has caused a huge increase in the number of stray dogs as they get enough carcasses in the absence
of the vultures. Similarly, jackals’ number too is
going high. This ultimately has increased the risk of the fatal disease like rabies,” claims Baral.
To conserve the vultures in Nepal, three vulture restaurants - one each in Nawalparasi, Shuklaphanta and Lumbini — are in operation where the meat of the
animals provided are free of Diclofenac .Baral, who is
the main brain behind the concept, says, “It’s not
too late to conserve the vultures and the restaurants have definitely helped increase the number in certain areas. But, the total number across the country is still falling sharply.”
“Two separate teams of researchers are deployed in Koshi Tappu and one in Langtang are presently in the field for continuous monitoring on the vulture population,” Baral reveals .
To promote awareness
all over the world, Hawk Conservancy Trust, Endangered Wildlife Trust,
WWF and Birdlife South Africa — together with the other organisations of more than 30 countries — declared September 5, as the International Vulture Awareness Day recently.
Although various awareness programmes and rallies are scheduled in Nawalparasi, Lumbini, and Palpa districts, Baral points out the need of such programmes all over the country.
“All the communities at the local level should be informed about the importance of the existence of the vultures and their present condition,” he adds.

Exhibition kicks off

POKHARA: A two-day vulture photo exhibition kicked off in Pokhara on Saturday. The exhibition is organised on the occasion of the First International Vulture Awareness Day that will be celebrated on September 5 every year.
The photo exhibition is organised by Krishna Mani Baral, a photojournalist with The Himalayan Times. Baral is also the founder of animalsrights.org, an internet site dedicated to spreading awareness for the protection of the endangered animals.
Altogether 70 photos of seven various vulture species have been put for display in the exhibition in the gallery of Nepal Tourism Board.
All the eight species of vultures found in Nepal are found in Pokhara. Baral said he took the photographs within the last four years. Lawmakers Rajkaji Gurung and Rabindra Adhikari had jointly inaugurated the exhibition. — HNS