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Indian government moves to protect vultures

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A drug that has caused the catastrophic crash of 97 per cent of the south Asian vulture population has been restricted by the Indian government. Firms have three months to stop flogging anti-inflammatory diclofenac to farmers.

The drug is given to cattle for lameness and as a painkiller. It had been thought harmless - it is widely prescribed to people - but scientists discovered the compound wrecked the kidneys of birds scavenging livestock carcasses.

White-backed, long-billed and slender billed species have been pushed to the brink of extinction since farmers began using the drug in the 90s.

RSPB conservation director Mark Avery said: "The Indian government's decision is an historic and priceless one and a move that will be hugely significant for the millions of people in Asia for whom vultures are absolutely indispensable."

Vultures occupy a vital ecological niche in the rural regions, stripping carcasses that would otherwise encourage disease.

RSPB Asian vulture program chief Chris Bowden said: "The decline of vultures has been quicker than any other wild bird, including the dodo, and we know what happened to them."

As we reported in January, conservationists had been lobbying New Dehli to have the practice outlawed. Officials are now pushing farmers and vets to switch to the alternative drug meloxicam. ®

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