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Key SAVE milestones

Since the discovery in the late 1990s that vulture populations were declining rapidly in Asia, a huge programme of work has been undertaken, with many false leads, frustrations and, ultimately, successes. Here are our key milestones:

1998

Anecdotal observations and counts of vultures at Keoladeo National Park indicate a decline in numbers in India.

1999

Declining trends in vulture numbers in India matched by similar declines in Pakistan and Nepal.

2000

Research into the cause of the decline is initiated in South Asia, investigating the potential role of food shortages, poisoning, use of pesticides, disease or other factors in the deaths and rapid population declines of vultures.

2003

Nationwide surveys across India indicate vultures have declined by more than 90% in comparison to populations in the early 1990s. An abundance of carcasses and breeding habitat (large trees and cliffs) indicate that these two factors are not causing the decline.

Researchers from Pakistan and The Peregrine Fund discover that the veterinary drug diclofenac is widely used for treating livestock in Pakistan and is toxic to vultures.

2004

Work in India and Nepal confirms the presence of diclofenac residues in all vulture carcasses with visceral gout and the widespread availability and use of this drug by veterinarians.

Vulture Recovery meetings in Nepal and India produces a Diclofenac Manifesto and Vulture Recovery Plan signed by national and international conservation organisations with the support of national governments. The documents state the need to ban the veterinary use of diclofenac, and the urgent requirements to find vulture-safe alternative drugs and to capture and establish a network of vulture conservation breeding centres.

The Vulture Research Facility at Pinjore, Haryana State, India, is enlarged and converted in to Asia's first Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre.

2006

Safety testing on African and Asian vultures demonstrates that an alternative veterinary drug, meloxicam, is safe for vultures and other scavenging birds as well as effective for treating livestock.

India's Ministry of Environment and Forests produces a Vulture Action Plan to tackle the conservation crisis within the country.

The governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan ban the manufacture and importation of veterinary diclofenac.

2007

Repeat nationwide surveys of vultures across India confirm the continued decline of vultures, with numbers of oriental white-backed vultures now reduced by 99.9% in comparison to 1992.

2008

Nepal constructs its first Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre.

Indian Government Gazettes 2006 veterinary diclofenac ban making its veterinary use, manufacture or importation a punishable offence by imprisonment.

Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres in India produce the first two oriental white-backed vultures to be bred in captivity; breeding activity commences in India's two other breeding centres in Assam and West Bengal.

Captive vulture status in November 2008: 98 oriental white-backed (84 India, 14 Nepal), with two fledged; 32 slender-billed; 54 long-billed.

New evidence that ketoprofen (an alternative to diclofenac) is also toxic to vultures.

2009

Breeding Centres in India produce 3 white-backed and two slender-billed vulture fledglings, the first time that the latter has ever been bred in captivity.

Nepal captures another 30 vulture chicks for the Centre and completes construction of a colony aviary, as well as finalising details of a National Action Plan for Vultures.

2010

Bangladesh Government bans veterinary diclofenac formulations.

There are some signs of decline in the use of veterinary diclofenac formulations and absence from retail outlets across India.

Successful fledging of three captive bred long-billed vultures in 2010, together with three more slender-billed and four oriental white-backed, demonstrates that all three species can be bred at the Centres (both long-billed and slender-billed vultures are world firsts for breeding in captivity).

2011

A new phase of the programme is launched in February under the banner of ‘Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction’ (SAVE) bringing eleven organisations with shared vision together including high profile events in Delhi and Kathmandu. The first annual SAVE meeting is organised by BNHS/RSPB in Pinjore, Haryana in November agrees regional priority actions.

Evidence is published that veterinary diclofenac formulations have become very scarce or absent from retail outlets across India and Nepal and that diclofenac levels in the environment have almost halved from 11% to 6% of cattle carcasses, with reduced predicted decline rate from 43% per year to 18% for oriental white-backed vulture. Availability of meloxicam, the safe alternative, has increased markedly.

Captive vulture status: all three Gyps species breeding in increased numbers in Indian centres.

2012

IUCN & Indian Govt call a regional meeting for South Asian countries in Delhi resulting in a Regional Declaration reinforcing SAVE agreed priorities, signed by all four countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal & Pakistan. Also the establishment of a Multi-lateral Regional Steering Committee that initially meets twice a year.

Vulture Safe Zone workshop held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India 16th May & Vulture Safe Zone concept developed and taken up more widely. Breeding programme again produces more fledglings with 26 in total at Indian centres.

2013

Annual SAVE meeting develops agreed Regional Blueprint Recovery Plan to 2025.

SAVE Partnership expands to 14 Partners.

Regional Steering Committee adopts SAVE Blueprint.

2014

Bangladesh Vulture Programme initiated with Govt and World Bank support.

Second generation captive vulture offspring produced at Pinjore and another record year produces 35 fledged in Indian centres. Totals further boosted by artificial incubation inducing some double-clutching. Nepal produces first fledgling at breeding centre.

Madhya Pradesh Govt supports new breeding centre which receives first vultures from Pinjore.

Bangladesh Government announces formal designation of two Vulture Safe Zones at 3rd SAVE meeting held in Dhaka.

2015

Ban of diclofenac multi-dose vials gazetted in July by Indian Government – to curb the main source of illegal diclofenac use in veterinary practice.

First two ‘SAVE Associates’ (new SAVE category) announced at October Vulture Safe Zone regional workshop held in Uttar Pradesh, India.

New evidence published that nimesulide (emerging veterinary painkiller) causes gout and death in 4 vultures.

Nepal publishes updated Government National Vulture Action Plan 2015-2019.

4th SAVE annual meeting in Nepal updates Blueprint Action Plan & links with RSC meeting.

2016

Aceclofenac demonstrated to metabolise to diclofenac in cattle thereby highlighting its danger to vultures in published literature.