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Drugs firms told to do more to prevent vulture extinctions

Alternative must be made available more widely!

The Indian government has ordered a crackdown on companies selling the drug responsible for the near-extinction of vultures. A letter from the Drug Controller General of India, Dr Surinder Singh, has warned more than 70 drugs firms not to sell the veterinary form of diclofenac, and to mark human diclofenac containers 'not for veterinary use'.

In 2004, suspicions that diclofenac was responsible for the catastrophic decline in vulture numbers were confirmed when the drug, present as residues in the carcasses of cattle, was found to cause fatal renal failure in Gyps vultures.

A study led by Dr Vibhu Prakash from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India), published this April, showed that the population of White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis in India was dropping by more than 40% every year. The species's numbers have dropped by 99.9% since 1992 to about 11,000, from tens of millions. Populations of Indian Gyps indicus and Slender-billed Gyps tenuirostris vultures have fallen by almost 97 per cent in the same period, to 45,000 and just 1,000 respectively.

Two years ago, following a meeting of the Indian National Board for Wildlife in 2005, chaired by the Prime Minister of India, the manufacture of veterinary diclofenac was outlawed.

Now vets are dodging the ban by using the human form of diclofenac for livestock, despite an effective and safe alternative drug being available. Dr Nita Shah, Head of the Vulture Advocacy Programme at BNHS said: "This step by the Indian government demonstrates its determination to tackle the vulture crisis and we are very hopeful that other measures will follow. Measures that make veterinary and human diclofenac less easy to use are crucial if we are to save these birds. Steps to make meloxicam, which is safe for vultures and just as effective in treating livestock, more widely available are just as important."

In his letter, Dr Singh said drugs companies should 'strictly implement' the ban on veterinary diclofenac and properly label human diclofenac containers and literature. This action would 'help in saving the vulture population and ecological balance in the animal world', Dr Singh said.

One major pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, has become the first to support the work of the BNHS and RSPB to protect remaining vultures from poisoning with diclofenac. Chris Bowden, Head of the RSPB's Vulture Recovery Programme, said: "Vultures are critical to the way of life for millions of people in India and the contribution from Boehringer Ingelheim is hugely welcome. Vultures need immediate action from across the board to stop vets using diclofenac and to support the captive breeding programmes that are so badly needed to prevent the extinction of these fine birds."

4th July 2014