The Solution - Research Programme
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Research has underpinned the vulture conservation programme from the very beginning. The first evidence of declines was from Keoladia National Park, India. Surveys and monitoring established that declines were occurring at a national and international scale, and triggered a four-year investigation in to the cause of the declines. Research has now clearly established that diclofenac is the principal cause of the population declines. Research also identified the safe alternative drug meloxicam that could be promoted as a replacement for diclofenac but found that another NSAID, ketoprofen, is toxic to vultures. Science and research published in peer-reviewed journals continue to be an important part of the vulture programme, with a varied range of projects aimed at monitoring populations, understanding the behaviour of birds, furthering research on the toxicity of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and documenting the health status of vultures and lessons to be learned from the breeding programme.
The main work areas within SAVE priorities are summarised below with links to latest updates.
Bird Conservation Nepal and the Bombay Nature History Society have been supported by the RSPB and ZSL to monitor colonies and conduct road transect surveys of vultures and the latest published summary of this was in Prakash et al - 2007. This allows population trends to be monitored for resident vultures and highlights breeding colonies in need of protection through working with local communities. An update will be published by the end of 2011. The latest trends in Prakash et al - 2007 show declines exceeding 40% per year for Oriental White-backed vultures, and an almost unbelievable 99.9% decline already having taken place since the early 1990s.
2. Veterinary drugs
The project aims to facilitate the identification of safe alternatives to diclofenac and introduce these into the veterinary marketplace. This work has involved a survey of the clinical use of NSAIDs in vultures and other scavenging birds and is involving safety testing of alternative NSAIDs on vultures in Southern Africa and India. Detail of the work involved in determining the safety of the NSAID meloxicam is available at this page. Further testing work has recently looked at the safety of the drug ketoprofen and found it to be toxic to vultures. Studies have also highlighted the need to improve formulation methods for meloxicam made within Asia. Updates on these will follow shortly
As part of the vulture work, the RSPB has worked closely with the Bombay Natural History Society, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, the University of Aberdeen and the Instituto de Investigacion en Recursos Cinegeticos, Spain, in order to quantify levels of diclofenac in cattle carcasses available to vultures in India. Additionally, visits and surveys of pharmaceutical shops have been made across Nepal and India to measure the availability of different veterinary drugs.
Updates will be added in the near future on this.
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