Over the past couple of decades, over 99% of the vulture population has disappeared from South Asia. Vulture populations of Bangladesh also faced a similar fate, causing local extinction of the Red-headed Vulture, one of the seven species in the country.
Of the six remaining species, two are considered resident, the White-rumped and the Slender-billed. Both of them are globally Critically Endangered. The population of White-rumped Vulture in Bangladesh now stands at a mere 260.
The primary reason for this disaster is the effects of veterinary painkiller drugs, mainly Diclofenac and Ketoprofen. When these drugs are administered to cattle, and if it dies within a certain period of time and subsequently consumed by vultures, it is fatal to the scavengers ‒ death comes to them from kidney failure.
However, Bangladesh, through the concerted efforts of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bangladesh Forest Department, and IUCN Bangladesh, has made tremendous gains to save these magnificent species.
In 2010, the Government of Bangladesh banned Diclofenac, the most harmful drug, and then in February 2021, it banned Ketoprofen, the second most harmful drug. Bangladesh is the only country in the world to be able to ban Ketoprofen.
"We have decided to be on the right side of history. The decision to ban ketoprofen is a major milestone in stopping the extinction of vultures in Bangladesh," Raquibul Amin, Country Representative of IUCN Bangladesh, told The Business Standard. "Steps must be taken immediately to control other similar toxic NSAIDs that may enter the market after ketoprofen is banned," He added.
In order to provide a safe, poison-free environment for the vultures, Bangladesh has also declared two Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) centring around two of the last remaining vulture breeding colonies in the country.
Vulture conservation teams have also been formed from the local communities surrounding the breeding colonies, with a view to provide a sense of ownership of the project to the local people.
To ensure safe and supplemental food, vulture feeding stations have been established, where cattle free of harmful drugs are sourced from the local communities and are provided to the vultures.
"We have used rigorous scientific research and data to influence policies that are pro-vulture and we have been able to bring in various stakeholders like the government and private sector into our conservation work for vultures," said A B M Sarowar Alam, Principal Investigator of the Vulture Conservation Initiative in Bangladesh, IUCN.
A vulture rescue centre was built in Dinajpur in 2016, where 114 vultures have already been successfully rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild, Sarowar Alam informed.
"We need vultures. Not only because they are nature's most efficient scavengers, who help get rid of rotting carcasses that spread diseases, but also because they are a part of our culture and heritage," Sarowar concluded.