Good news for vultures: ban on diclofenac is working

A new report, based on the research by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), shows the number of cattle carcasses contaminated with diclofenac has declined by over 40 per cent in India between 2006 and 2008.

The concentration of diclofenac in the carcasses too has come down, according to the report published yesterday in the US-based science journal, `PLoS ONE'. Dr Richard Cuthbert of RSPB is its lead author.

"Complete removal of diclofenac from vulture food is the single-most important action needed to save vultures. Human formulations are still being sold by some irresponsible companies in large veterinary-sized vials (30 ml). These bigger bottles must be outlawed to make illegal diclofenac's use for cattle more difficult and expensive," BNHS's director Dr Asad Rahmani said.

Moreover, the recovery of the wild vulture populations also requires efforts to stop usage of diclofenac completely, he said.

The presence and concentration of diclofenac in carcasses of domesticated cattle in India was studied by BNHS, both before and after the implementation of the ban on its veterinary use.

The governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan banned the veterinary use of the painkiller diclofenac in 2006 when it was noticed that vultures died after they fed on the carcasses of cattle that had been treated with diclofenac shortly before the death. BNHS and RSPB lobbied very hard to get this ban in place, Rahmani said.

With this positive development, the rate of annual population decline of vultures in South Asia is expected to slow down by about two-third. The decline rate is expected to be about 18 per cent per annum for the most vulnerable vulture species, Oriental White-backed Vulture, down from about 40 per cent per annum before the ban.

Cuthbert says in the report that "some of the alternatives to diclofenac have not been tested for their safety to vultures and one drug in increasing use - ketoprofen - is already known to be toxic to them".

Meloxicam is a safe alternative and is slowly becoming popular as its cost is falling and approaching that of diclofenac, according to the report.


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