Vultures Die from Drug Abuse
Three species of vulture in Asia are threatened with imminent extinction unless swift action is taken to protect them, says a group of some of the world`s leading conservation organisations, including the RSPB, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, the BirdLife Partner in India), BirdLife International and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Research published in the latest edition of Nature, by the US-based organisation The Peregrine Fund and the Ornithological Society of Pakistan (BirdLife in Pakistan), shows that diclofenac [Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is widely used in human medicine. Its veterinary use is currently largely restricted to the Indian subcontinent], a drug used in the treatment of livestock, is a major cause of the observed vulture declines in Asia.
Dr Debbie Pain, a research scientist at RSPB, said: In the 1980s, the white-rumped vulture was thought to be the most abundant large bird of prey in the world, but in little over a decade, the population has crashed by more than 99%, with the loss of tens of millions of birds. The decline of Asian vultures is one of the steepest declines experienced by any bird species, and is certainly faster than that suffered by the dodo before its extinction. If nothing is done these vulture species will become extinct.
This research shows that feeding
on the carcasses of animals recently treated with diclofenac kills vultures. Dr Rhys Green of the RSPB said: only a small
proportion of dead livestock need to contain lethal doses of diclofenac to cause these alarming vulture population
Dr Vibhu Prakash of BNHS said: We first noticed the declines in India at Keoladeo National Park World Heritage Site in the mid-1990s, and have been spearheading vulture research and conservation efforts ever since.
Dr Andrew Cunningham, of ZSL`s Institute of Zoology, said: Vultures are keystone species and their declines are having adverse effects upon other wildlife, domestic animals and people. The vultures` population crash has led to an increase in the number of feral dogs which poses a range of disease threats.
In 2000, the white-rumped
vulture Gyps bengalensis, and the closely related slender-billed and Indian vultures Gyps tenuirostris and Gyps
indicus, were classified as Critically Endangered. This status recognises that these species are now more vulnerable to global
extinction than the tiger and the great Indian rhinoceros, which are both classified as Endangered.
Currently, the use of diclofenac to treat livestock appears to be largely restricted to countries in southern Asia, including India, Pakistan and Nepal. However, there are concerns that, were this drug to be used in a similar way in Africa, the Middle East or Europe, it might affect closely related species in these regions too.
To protect vultures across the
world, the RSPB, BNHS, ZSL OSP, Bird Conservation Nepal (BirdLife in Nepal), BirdLife International, and The Peregrine Fund are today
calling on governments of countries with vulture populations, and manufacturers of diclofenac, to ban the use of this drug in
livestock. It is believed the recovery of vulture populations in southern Asia will not be effective until their exposure to
diclofenac has been removed.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB`s director of conservation, said: The Asian vulture crisis is one of the world`s most important conservation priorities. The RSPB is committing significant resources to a programme to ensure that these birds have a future.
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact Grahame Madge, RSPB press officer, on 01767 681577. [Out of hours, please telephone: 07702 196902 (mobile) or 01234 870627 (home)] or Jacqueline Ray, Zoological Society of London press officer, on: 0207 449 6236 or Richard Thomas of BirdLife International, on: 01223 279813
Created: 28th Jan 2004