- Description: The Red-headed Vulture, also known as the Asian King Vulture, Indian Black Vulture or Pondicherry Vulture, is the species of Old world Vulture found in South Asia. Up to 85 cm. long and weighting 3.7 to 5.4 Kg, this gaudy-faced vulture was historically abundant with range over South-central and South-eastern Asia extending from Pakistan to Singapore. Today the range of the Red-headed Vulture is localised primarily to Nepal and Northern India where it is found in open country and in cultivated and semi-desert areas.
- Ecological note: It frequents open country (often near human habitation), well-wooded hills and dry deciduous forest with rivers, usually below 2,500 m. Nesting has been recorded in tall trees. It occurs at lower density than Gyps vultures owing to its predominantly territorial behaviour, and movements are poorly known. Vultures play a key role in the wider landscape as providers of ecosystem services. They were previously heavily relied upon to help dispose of animal and human remains in India. Furthermore, since the collapse of the vulture population the number of feral dogs in India has doubled since the 1980s and rabies now poses an increased threat to human populations in the Indian Subcontinent. As a consequence, the majority of respondents during a socioeconomic study in Nepal, were strongly in favour of vulture conservation and were willing to contribute towards it.
- Threats: The disappearance of vultures from Asia is linked to a suite of factors: notably the demise of wild ungulates, the intensification of agriculture, increased sophistication of waste disposal techniques, direct persecution and disease. However, rapid declines over the last eight years are believed to have been driven by the pharmaceutical NSAID diclofenac used to treat livestock, which has proven highly toxic to vultures, causing mortality from renal failure resulting from visceral gout.
- Conservational Measures: The Indian government has now passed a bill banning the manufacture of the veterinary drug diclofenac that has caused the rapid population decline across the Indian Subcontinent; their aim was to phase out its use by late 2005, although it was still in widespread use in 2007 and is likely to remain so for several years. Similar laws banning import and manufacture of diclofenac are now in place in Nepal and Pakistan. Efforts to replace diclofenac with a suitable alternative are ongoing; drug companies have now developed meloxicam, an alternative to diclofenac. Monitoring of vultures has been conducted in a number of protected areas in India. Monitoring of vulture populations, combined with supplementary feeding, is underway in the northern and eastern plains of Cambodia. Captive breeding efforts are not as advanced as they are for Critically Endangered Gyps vultures and these are urgently needed.