Action: Provide food for vultures to reduce mortality from diclofenac
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A before-and-after trial in Pakistan found that oriental white-backed vulture Gyps bengalensis mortality rates were significantly lower when supplementary food was provided, compared to when it was not.
Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug has caused widespread and dramatic declines in vulture populations in South Asia by inducing renal failure and visceral gout in birds feeding on the carcasses of livestock previously treated with the drug (Oaks et al. 2004). Whereas, there are measures to reduce its use and replace it with non-toxic alternatives (Pain et al. 2008), it has so far remained on sale. Vulture ‘restaurants’ have therefore been proposed as a method of reducing mortality until the drug is phased out, by providing a safe, uncontaminated source of food for the remaining vulture populations.
Other studies on the provision of food (for reasons other than diclofenac avoidance) are discussed in ‘Supplementary feeding’.
Pain, D.J., Bowden, C.G.R., Cunningham, A.A., Cuthbert, R., Das, D., Gilbert, M., Jakati, R.D., Jhala, Y., Khan, A.A., Naidoo, V., Lindsay Oaks, J., Parry-Jones, J., Prakash, V., Rahmani, A., Ranade, S.P., Sagar Baral, H., Ram Senacha, K., Saravanan, S., Shah, N., Swan, G., Swarup, D., Taggart, M.A., Watson, R.T., Virani, M.Z., Wolter, K. & Green, R.E. (2008) The race to prevent the extinction of South Asian vultures. Bird Conservation International, 18, S30-S48.
Oaks, J.L., Gilbert, M., Virani, M.Z., Watson, R.T., Meteyer, C.U., Rideout, B.A., Shivaprasad, H.L., Ahmed, S., Chaudhry, M.J.I., Arshad, M., Mahmood, S., Ali, A. & Khan, A.A. (2004) Diclofenac residues as the cause of vulture population decline in Pakistan. Nature, 427, 630–633.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A before-and-after trial in 2003-4 (Gilbert et al. 2007) found that daily mortality of oriental white-backed vultures Gyps bengalensis at a colony in Punjab province, Pakistan, was significantly lower during two periods when supplementary food (diclofenac-free donkey carcasses) was provided at a nearby ‘vulture restaurant’, compared to two control periods (0.072 birds/day dying over 111 days when food was provided vs. 0.387 birds/day over 116 days without food). Of the 30 dead vultures examined (eight from supplemented periods), 29 showed signs of diclofenac poisoning. Home range size of three radio-tagged vultures appeared to contract when they discovered the ‘restaurant’ (thus reducing the possibility of contact with diclofenac) but two further tagged vultures did not use the restaurant at all.