Cambodian vultures (photo: : A. Michaud)

    In the face of what has become a precipitous slide toward extinction across the Asian continent, the vultures of Cambodia have persisted, giving conservationists hope that these important scavengers can come back from the brink.

    Results from vulture censuses from several sites in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam over the past several years have been encouraging, with new nests recorded and even population increases.

    While Cambodia’s vulture populations remain healthy, the use of poison by hunters and fishers for capturing other species are leading to unintended vulture mortalities. A study from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Royal Government of Cambodia and other groups, reported that seventy-four percent of the forty-two recorded mortalities during the study period were attributable to poison.

    An enormous problem is the veterinary drug diclofenac widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle in South Asia that is toxic to vultures, causing death through renal failure and visceral gout to birds that feed on the cattle carcasses.

    In 2004 the governments of India, Pakistan and Nepal were presented with irrefutable proof that diclofenac was killing vultures at a catastrophic rate. All three countries banned the manufacture of veterinary diclofenac in 2006.

    In spite of a long crusade by researchers to warn of the drug’s danger, veterinary diclofenac continues to be used widely after its ban.

    Continued widespread use of the drug has led to global population declines higher than 99 percent in some vulture species. The slender-billed vulture, white-rumped vulture, and red-headed vulture are all listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

    Source: Wildlife Conservation Society via Science Daily.