When you think of the sight of vultures Circling above us is annoying. Imagine not seeing any in places where it used to thrive. This was the reality for researchers in Asia in the 1990s, who first noticed these majestic birds of prey were disappearing, along with all the useful waste disposal services that came with them. In response, BirdLife partners across Asia worked with scientists and other conservation organizations to identify and fix the root cause before it was too late.
It wasn’t long before they found the main culprit: diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat farm animals but which is fatal to the vultures that clean the animals’ carcasses. This was the beginning of a long battle to get this drug and related substances removed from the marketplace and rebuild vulture populations, many of which had declined by as much as 99%.
To strengthen their collaboration, organizations from all over the world came together in 2011 to create SAVE (Rescue the Vultures of Asia from Extinction). This consortium brought together 24 partners from a variety of sectors and areas of expertise, including five BirdLife partners who were at the forefront of the action. BirdLife has been extremely proud for the past decade to have been part of groundbreaking research, advocacy, and conservation efforts that exceed the sum of its parts.
Today SAVE is a highly respected organization that is taken seriously by governments around the world. We have confirmed diclofenac bans in five countries, with the most recent bans in Iran and Oman being led directly by SAVE’s expertise. We released the first captive-bred white-backed vultures in Nepal and created a large network of vulture-safe zones. We raised public awareness, many of whom were previously ignorant of the vulture crisis, and contributed to the Convention on the Instrumental Vulture Action Plan for Multiple Migratory Species, in which over 120 countries have committed to protecting 15 species of vultures across Africa. Europe and Asia. This ambitious strategy relies heavily on SAVE’s Blueprint Recovery Plan, which is updated every year with new insights and discoveries.
Subscribe to our newsletter!
The effect of all this hard work is already showing: The latest research has shown that the populations of the Nepalese vulture gyps bengalensis and the tenuirostris vulture with a slim beak have slowly increased since 2013. This coincides perfectly with the time the sales were made. Diclofenac (banned in 2006) was successfully phased out in Nepal’s pharmacies.
Despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, SAVE still managed to make a difference. In 2020 alone, we developed a vulture conservation action plan in Myanmar, made important progress in banning ketoprofen (another drug that is toxic to vultures) in Bangladesh, and released eight captive-bred white-backed vultures in India.
There is still a long way to go – covert surveys in India’s pharmacies suggest that the number of vulture venomous drugs is on the rise again, and the death of a griffon vulture in Europe this year, when veterinary use of diclofenac was legalized in 2014, shows that progress is not universal. Nevertheless, it is clear that we are moving in the right direction. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, SAVE has released a beautiful vulture song that sums up what we all think and is now hoping with increasing confidence: “We want you back.”
More information can be found at save-vultures.org