New Delhi: In a step to conserve several species of birds of prey, the government has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the ‘Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia’, better known as the Raptor MoU.

The MoU was signed on 7 March with the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, at its secretariat in Abu Dhabi.

The Raptor MoU covers 76 species of birds of prey, of which over 50 occur in India, including the critically endangered vulture.

The Union cabinet had cleared the environment ministry’s proposal to sign the Raptor MoU in December. The MoU is not legally binding.

Raptors, or birds of prey, are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, illegal shooting and poisoning, collisions with aerial structures and electrocution by power lines.

“It is a very important step as a number of species come to India from other countries. This MoU will push for conservation in collaboration with other countries which come in the migratory routes of these species," said Vibhu Prakash, principal scientist, Bombay Natural History Society.

Some of the action plans outlined by the convention for conservation of migratory species include reversing the population declines of globally threatened and near-threatened birds of prey and to anticipate, reduce and avoid potential threats to all birds of prey.

Prakash added that one of the biggest worries is the vulture, whose population has declined from 40 million in the 1980s to around 100,000 today.

One of the main causes of the decline in vulture population is a veterinary drug called diclofenac, which is commonly used to treat cattle, but ended up killing the vultures that fed on cattle carcass.

The Asian vulture crisis led the government to ban the use of the drug for veterinary purposes in 2006. At the current rate, it is estimated that vultures may become extinct in 10 years, Prakash added.