A recent study on the availability of Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) harmful to vultures, in six districts in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR), has shown that about 50% of the surveyed pharmacies were selling NSAIDs.
The paper, ‘How availability of NSAIDs and public perception matters in vulture conservation in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, South India: An overt and covert survey approach,’ which, the researchers say has been accepted for publication in an international journal, delves into the availability of common NSAIDs harmful to vultures, such as diclofenac, aceclofenac, nimesulide and flunixin in 280 pharmacies in the Nilgiris, Erode, Coimbatore, Wayanad, Chamrajanagar and Tiruppur.
The six districts form part of the home range of four vulture species: the Egyptian vulture, Asian king vulture, long-billed vulture and white-rumped vulture. Three other species, including the cinereous vulture, Himalayan griffon vulture and the Eurasian griffon vulture are also occasional migrants to the area, home to the largest population of vultures, south of the Vindhya mountain range.
The researchers, S. Manigandan, H. Byju, P. Kannan, B. Ramakrishnan and Reshmi Vijayan state that out of the 280 pharmacies surveyed, they found the sale of the banned drug diclofenac in pharmacies in Erode and Chamrajanagar in 2019. By 2020 however, this sale was restricted to a single pharmacy in Chamrajanagar.
The drug ketoprofen was recorded as being sold in 20.83 percent of all pharmacies in the six districts, with the highest in the Nilgiris. Nimesulide too, was recorded as being sold, with 26.67 percent of pharmacies stocking the drug in Coimbatore. Meanwhile, aceclofenac, another drug harmful to vultures was commonly found in Erode, with 50 percent of all pharmacies stocking the drug, followed by Coimbatore, Tirupur, Nilgiris and Chamrajanagar.
S. Manigandan, one of the authors of the paper said that while the sale of harmful NSAIDs in pharmacies located around vulture habitats was concerning, there was some good news, as meloxicam, a drug that is not harmful to the vultures was found in abundance in all six districts, indicating its increasingly preferred usage to treat cattle in place of the harmful NSAIDs.
“The number of vultures in India in the 1980s was around 4 crore, but now, due to the use of harmful NSAIDs like diclofenac, the population has crashed to less than one percent of the 1980s number,” said Mr. Manigandan, who said that as vultures disappear from the landscape, their role as scavengers is being taken over by less efficient animals such as dogs, wild pigs, jackals, kites and crows.
“These animals don’t depend on scavenging alone to survive. So they are not as efficient in consuming a carcass when compared to vultures. As vultures consume the entire carcass, harmful pathogens and toxins will not leach from the carcass into the soil and water to contaminate it. Thus, vultures truly help to keep our environment clean.”
“The other problem with vulture decline has been the consequent increase in the number of dogs on the streets. These dogs could potentially carry pathogens and disease from rotting carcasses to humans and spread diseases,” said Mr. Manigandan.