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Growing old can be a pain in the neck - and often lots of other places as well! For example if you’re a man your hair can start disappearing off your head only to suddenly pop out in other places like your ears or nose. Now that’s a surprise and a real challenge when it comes to shaving. You may find yourself getting up two or three times a night to go for a wee and the climb up and down the stairs in the early hours can be like the north face of the Eiger. Your eyesight might start to fail and your hearing too… and then there are assorted pains in assorted limbs and joints. Fingers, feet, elbows and ankles are all in line for lumbago, sciatica, rheumatism and all their little pals queuing up to get at you.

My own anguish came with a pain in my leg that ran from my waist, across my buttock and down my right leg and a terror it was too. My doctor said that it was sciatica, one of those things that came in old age along with a state pension, a freedom pass on public transport and if I last out until 75 a free TV license.

STOP PRESS

The Free TV Licence will only available after 1st August to over-75s receiving Pension Credit. It will be funded by the BBC.

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My doctor prescribed me an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac and jolly good it was too. I would take the tablets for 2 or 3 days after which the pain disappeared for weeks and sometimes months on end. Then I read in the paper that diclofenac was killing vultures in India. It seemed that in the sub-continent diclofenac was used as a veterinary anti-inflammatory. If the animal died its carcass would be left exposed in the fields for vultures to dispose of. The problem was that diclofenac is poisonous to birds. Between 1992 and 2007 three of India’s common vulture species had declined between 97% and 99.9%.

Now the same sad process is happening in Africa, home to 11 of the world’s 16 old-world vulture species. In March of this year more than 2000 hooded vultures died in Guinea-Bissau, a significant proportion of the world population. The bird is now listed as ‘critically endangered’. There have been other vulture poisonings. In June 2013 several hundred were poisoned in the Zambezi region of Namibia. In June 2019 537 vultures from 5 different species died near Chobe national park in Botswana. Although most of the poisonings were unintentional there is growing evidence that locals are deliberately poisoning vultures in the belief that possessing the head of a vulture is a good luck charm. Poachers also target the birds as they can alert rangers to an illegal kill.

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Conservation groups have started organising Vulture Safe Zones and education programmes to protect the birds but the situation is not helped by a lack of appreciation of the importance of vultures. Beckie Garbett of Birdlife International says… “Vultures play a vital role within human ecosystems that most people are unaware of, and so they don’t class their conservation as important. We only have to look to Asia as an example of what could happen in the face of continued vulture declines in Africa.”

When I last went to the doctor to renew my prescription for diclofenac he told me that they were no longer prescribing the drug and he gave me something else instead. I commented that this might be a good thing as diclofenac was killing vultures in India. I then promised myself that when I die I wouldn’t be exposing my carcass in the back garden Well, if ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri) can make it all the way from India to TW1 why can’t vultures?

– from Martyn Day