BENGALURU: Even as India celebrated the International Vulture Awareness Day on September 5, the news comes that vulture populations are still declining and there are no significant signs of their recovery in India. A new study released this week says the drug diclofenac, which was banned for causing mass kill-offs of three vulture species, is still being prescribed and is available across medical stores.
The catastrophic decline of critically endangered White rumped, long and slender billed vultures in South Asia was caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac which was finally banned in 2006. Apart from diclofenac still being used, there are also other unsafe drugs like Aceclofenac, Ketoprofen and Nimesulide becoming more widely used by vets to treat cattle. Tamil Nadu has already taken steps to restrict the usage of such drugs by vets.
Presence of banned drug in cattle carcasses killing vultures, say experts
One safe drug – Meloxicam -- has been identified and things are looking slightly more positive as this becomes more common.This study was undertaken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Centre for Conservation Science, the Bombay Natural History Society, Bird Conservation Nepal, IUCN Bangladesh and the University of Cambridge. According to a covert probe led by this group, more than a decade after being banned, diclofenac is still being prescribed across the country.
In 2003, the widespread use of diclofenac in cattle was discovered to be decimating the Asian vultures after entering its food chain.Despite the ban, cattle carcasses continued to be found containing lethal concentrations of diclofenac along with contaminated, dead vultures. Worryingly, their populations were not showing significant signs of recovery. Chris Bowden, Programme Manager of Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction, said, “The importance of these results is emphasised by the most recently published nationwide population surveys of vultures in India and Nepal. In India, they either continue to decline or, at best, are stable but at low levels and not yet showing signs of a recovery.”
The Bombay Natural History Society has been conducting surveys every four years and their studies too have revealed the causes of mortality. Dr Vibhu Prakash, Deputy Director, said, “Although diclofenac, which is the most toxic drug to vultures, has been the main focus of our advocacy work, our study recorded 11 different NSAIDs, of which five are already known to be toxic to vultures. We keep monitoring the prevalence of diclofenac in cattle and sometimes found overdoses. Unfortunately, anybody can buy these drugs for treatment of cattle. But now three more drugs need to be restricted and banned.”
Dr H S Prayag, veterinary expert, said, “A good number of samples have been tested for vulture poisoning. We found the cattle laced with poison (to kill tigers) has indirectly killed vultures. So, the need of the hour is that vets should conduct a post-mortem of dead vultures when tigers are poisoned.”In this backdrop, scientists have called upon the state governments to strictly restrict or ban veterinary use of those drugs that are toxic to vultures.