[Ananya Mukerjee from International Species Recovery tells us about this important event]

International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from a small-scale event to a globally recognised day where organisations around the world arrange activities around the 1st of September to highlight the importance of saving these species. Vultures provide vital ecosystem services as they scavenge on carcasses, and are nature’s most efficient clean-up service. However, the use of a drug called diclofenac in treating sick cattle has threatened their existence.

Much of the vulture awareness activities in South Asia are centred on using a vulture safe drug meloxicam and "saying No to diclofenac". Our Birdlife partners in India (BNHS) and Nepal (BCN) are raising the profile of vulture conservation work in the region. For example, BCN has organised training, rallies, workshops, documentaries and other events in 20 districts of Nepal.

The main objective of such people engagement activity is to create mass support and awareness of the consequence of losing important keystone specie, which could lead to the spread of infectious disease, environmental pollution through groundwater contamination, as well as rabies with the increase in the number of feral dogs.

In an attempt to prevent these critically endangered Gyps vultures from going extinct, the RSPB, through the help of our Birdlife partner in India (BNHS), has initiated Vulture Safe Zones. These areas have been identified as having existing vulture colonies and are best placed for in situ conservation of the future Gyps populations that are currently breeding in captivity. However, the main challenge remains in making the identified Vulture Zones "Safe" for future releases. Geographically, the majority of the vulture colonies are located in areas where livestock and cattle are owned by a large number of people, and the extensive use of diclofenac stems from cattle owners treating their livestock.

 Awareness programme in Village Suhelwa

A key element, in ensuring diclofenac is not being used is active engagement and awareness of locals in the conservation work. BNHS has been involved in vulture conservation work for many years, but the sheer size of India, with a diverse and dynamic political economy, has made it much more challenging and hard to implement the veterinary diclofenac ban, and therefore we need to have targeted awareness at different levels. Five provisional Vulture Safe Zones have been established in India, in the states of Gujarat, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and two in Uttar Pradesh. These states have complex regional diversities making it difficult for one-size-fit-all advocacy across the states, so we need constant improvisation centred around these heterogeneous elements.

On an international level, vultures received prominence for the first time in South Asia, with the Regional Declaration on Vulture Conservation by the governments of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The ban on the multi-dose vial size of human diclofenac received top priority to prevent misuse in the veterinary sector, but influencing people at the government level to pass the legislation requires a strong advocacy strategy to ensure key players in individual states are engaged with our local partners or civil society organisations.

From the national to the international, and filtering down to the local level, awareness has a key role to play to ensure that the provisional Vulture Safe Zones actually become safe for the vultures in future. International Vulture Awareness Day is an effort in that direction, and the RSPB as Birdlife International’s UK partner organised a fund-raising "Vulture night" - an informal evening of Indian cuisine.

 Vulture film show at a local village hall for awareness raising on the status of vultures in India

To find out more about our work on vultures, click here.

To find out more about Save Our Species, one of the major donors for the vulture work in South Asia, click here.