Muscat: Oman’s diverse environment has seen it become a nesting ground for 39 raptor species, and steps are being taken to conserve the birds and encourage them to thrive.
Birds of prey found in the country include the Egyptian vulture, steppe eagle, lappet-faced vulture, golden eagle, sooty falcon, eastern imperial eagle and greater spotted eagle. Several of these are listed as endangered or vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with vultures being among the most critical.
The reasons vultures are so widely threatened are numerous and include intentional and unintentional poisoning and electrocution on energy infrastructure, among others.
Unintentional poisoning can happen through poisoned baits, which aim to kill some invasive species and carnivores, or through secondary poisoning by veterinary drugs. Some veterinary drugs that are poisonous to raptors are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Among those NSAIDs in use in Oman is diclofenac, whose use was recently banned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, a move welcomed by the Environmental Society of Oman. Diclofenac is an NSAID used on domestic livestock.
The drug is extremely poisonous to many species of raptor, particularly vultures and eagles. Issued by Ministerial Decision No. 81/2020 to show the country’s commitment to the conservation of endangered animals like vultures and other birds of prey.
Dr. Yahyah Al Mawali, Assistant Director General of Animal Wealth at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, said, “Based on the overwhelming evidence that diclofenac is fatally poisonous to birds of prey, and the availability of safe alternatives, we decided to prohibit its use in veterinary care.
“We join a number of other countries, including Pakistan, India, Iran and Bangladesh, who have banned the import and uses of the drug due to its toxicity to vultures and eagles. By moving fast, it means that Oman has not had to face the consequences as other countries have,” he added.
“This drug is the main cause of the collapse of at least three species of vulture in South Asia (over 90 percent of the population), particularly in India, over the last 25 years, where vultures that have fed on carcasses of animals treated with diclofenac have died,” he added.
“Diclofenac causes kidney failure in vultures, and has resulted in the collapse of populations. It, and other NSAIDs are also poisonous to other raptors, including globally endangered steppe eagles that winter in Oman in large numbers.” Dr. Andrew Spalton, ESO Board Member, said, “As we continue to focus on ensuring their survival, the support of the government is crucial and we are extremely grateful to them for this decision.”
Dr. Michael McGrady, Director of International Avian Research, also commented, “We commend the decision by Oman’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, whose action could interrupt the potential damage such contaminants could cause in Oman’s raptor populations. As nature’s waste managers, avian scavengers provide no-cost disposal of biological waste, which can be a vector for diseases and can encourage the population expansion of other scavengers that can carry rabies.
“Scavenging birds benefit humans by providing this valuable ecosystem service, so conserving them is in our own best interest,” he added. “Until now scavenging birds have enjoyed a relatively healthy conservation status in Oman, but efforts like this are crucial to keeping it this way. This is a great conservation success story.”
ESO has been active in the research and conservation of Oman’s raptors since 2012, including conducting field surveys, tagging, satellite tracking and initiating outreach activities. Most recently it released ‘Raptors of Oman’, a free online information booklet that engages the public and bolsters Oman’s conservation commitment to the important raptors that live here seasonally or year-round.