Vulture-killing drug on sale in Europe

The veterinary drug that almost completely wiped out vultures in southern Asia has been found on sale in the EU.

During the last decade more than 99 percent of  the three vulture species in India, Pakistan and Nepal were wiped out by accidentally consuming Diclofenac, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that can be prescribed to humans as well as to domestic animals. The drug is extremely toxic to vultures and its use on cattle has wiped out vulture populations in the Indian subcontimemt when they scavenged the corpses.

Though these countries have now banned Diclofenac for veterinary use, Diclofenac has been authorized for use in domestic animals in Spain (where eight out of 10 European vultures live) and Italy and is now becoming widely available on the EU market, despite alternative safe drugs being readily available. According to a technical dossier put together by Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO)/BirdLife, the RSPB and Vulture Conservation Foundation, this will cause a European mass execution of the charismatic, endangered and ecologically-valuable birds.

Lammergeier (Video: Zoltán Orbán).

Four rare vulture species are present in Europe, and all are protected by EU law. Egyptian Vulture is threatened with extinction and listed as Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species and Black Vulture is listed as Near Threatened. Griffon and Bearded Vultures have recently recovered from very low population levels after decades of conservation efforts. Millions of euros have been invested in saving the European vulture species and the results are now in jeopardy. 


Griffon Vulture (Photo: Zoltán Orbán).


“Vultures are magnificent birds that provide a major service to society by cleaning up dead animals and helping to avoid the spread of diseases. The Iberian Peninsula, France and Italy include the bulk of our vulture populations and we call on the European Union to learn from the south Asian experience and ban the veterinary use of Diclofenac, in order to avoid an ecological catastrophe,” explained Ivan Ramirez, Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe.

In India, Pakistan and Nepal, Diclofenac was regularly used in the 1990s to subdue cattle. When the animals died, the drug remained present in their bodies and was consumed by vultures, causing almost immediate death. In just 10 years or so, the vulture populations in these countries had declined by 99 per cent, bringing some of the most common and iconic large birds of the Indian subcontinent to the verge of extinction. This has also had serious residual effects on human health, as uneaten carcasses have increased due to the decreases in vulture populations and are now being ravaged by increasing populations of stray dogs that carry and spread the rabies virus. 

José Tavares, Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation stated: “It is shocking that a drug that has already wiped out wildlife on a massive scale in Asia is now put on the market in crucial countries for vulture conservation such as Spain and Italy, especially as the total ban on Diclofenac in India has produced the first signs of recovery in Indian vultures.” A European ban would also send a crucial signal encouraging African countries to stop the spreading use of Diclofenac, which is already affecting the highly endangered populations of African vultures.

“The EU and its Member States have a legal obligation to conserve vultures under the EU Birds Directive and EU Veterinary Drugs legislation which requires avoiding ecological damage. It is urgent that the EU acts on these grounds and bans veterinary Diclofenac immediately from the EU market,” concluded Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy.

Birdwatch News Archive
Posted on: 03 Mar 2014
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