The government should immediately ban veterinary drugs such as ketoprofen as they are killing these scavenging birds of prey, which play a critical role in maintaining the ecosystem, said speakers at a webinar yesterday.
The event was organised on the occasion of "International Vulture Awareness Day", observed worldwide yesterday.
The forest department and IUCN Bangladesh jointly organised the webinar, which was broadcast live from IUCN Asia Facebook page.
The speakers said vultures play a critical role in maintaining the ecosystem's health by controlling spread of diseases.
Vultures eat rapidly and feed in large groups which allows them to consume carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals) quickly. This reduces the risk of disease spread from flies or bacteria, they added.
Unfortunately, over 99.9 percent of vultures of South Asia have disappeared over the past couple of decades. Bangladesh's vulture population has been similarly affected with only 260 resident vultures left.
According to IUCN, recent surveys have showed that Ketoprofen, a veterinary painkiller, is present in significant amount in the market. Any vulture feeding on a cattle carcass containing it is bound to die. Veterinary painkilling drugs have been the sole reason for the unprecedented vulture tragedy of South Asia.
Speaking as the chief guest, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Shahab Uddin said vultures are vanishing due to the use of harmful drugs (diclofenac and ketoprofen).
"We have banned diclofenac but ketoprofen is still being produced," he added.
Ziaul Hasan, secretary to the ministry, said, "The government banned ketoprofen in two 'vulture zones'. As a result, its production decreased by 10 percent. We will take more steps to reduce its usage after discussing with all the stakeholders."
"The present government is providing all necessary helps to save our nature and environment," he mentioned.
Billal Hossain, additional secretary to the ministry, and chair of Bangladesh Vulture National Recovery Committee, said there are almost 10-15 pharmaceutical companies producing meloxicam as an alternative to diclofenac.
"If they can produce sufficient meloxicam and supply it throughout the country, it will be easier to ban ketoprofen," he said.
Enam-Ul-Haque, founder of Bangladesh Bird Club, said, "We should stop using ketoprofen right now… even before the government imposes a ban on it."
Chris Bowden, programme manager of SAVE RSPD and co-chair of IUCN Vulture Specialist Group, said, "Bangladesh is playing a leading role in conservation of vultures among six countries in Asia."
However, Nepal is ahead in reducing usage of diclofenac. Ketoprofen is a threat to vulture conservation efforts in Bangladesh, he said.
Among others, chair of the webinar, Amir Hossain Chowdhury, also chief conservator of forests, summarised the discussion. Habibun Nahar, deputy minister for environment, forest and climate change; Mihir Kumar Doe, conservator of forest; Sirajul Hoque, director of Animal Health Division at Renata Limited; Muqeed Majumdar Babu, chairman of Prokriti O Jibon Foundation; and Raquibul Amin, country representative, IUCN Bangladesh, also spoke at the webinar.