Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Study ; Drug ban could save vultures

Five years after the veterinary drug diclofenac was banned in India, there is hope for the vulture population decline. A new study has found that between 2006 and 2010 the proportion of cattle died in the country are contaminated with drug diclofenac declined by 40%. Thus, while 12% mortality of livestock available for vultures to feed diclofenac had before the ban, that figure fell to 7% after the ban.

In 2006, the Government of India banned diclofenac, when it was discovered that the vultures were killed when they ate the carcasses of cattle treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Landing the vultures could be seen in three endangered species - the eastern dorsobianco vulture, vulture beak long and slender billed vulture - which were endemic in South Asia, but has been declining since 1990, when the drug was introduced.

The study by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was published in the May 11 issue of the PloS One, an online peer reviewed journal.
Started in 2004 and spanning six years, the ten-member team studied diclofenac concentration in 2,000 liver samples of cattle carcasses across India before and after the ban.
The study has restricted itself to oriental white-backed vultures since previous studies have established the link between their deaths after consumption of carcass ingested with diclofenac dose.
“We expect that our conclusions concerning this species will also be relevant to the conservation of the two other threatened species in south Asia,” said Dr Richard Cuthbert from RSPB and lead author of the study.
With a decrease in contamination levels, researchers said the annual rate of decline for the oriental white-backed vultures would dip to 18% from the present 40%.
Researchers, however, said that efforts to completely eradicate the drug have to continue. “The ban will be effective and vultures will be safe only when the amount of diclofenac in carcasses is 0.5%. So we have a long way to go,” said Vibhu Mathur, deputy director and head of vulture conservation breeding programme, BNHS. “We have tested another drug called Meloxicam that is safe for vultures and are pushing it as an alternative for cattle.”
Meanwhile, the government has directed pharmaceutical companies to manufacture smaller (3 to 4mm) vials of the drug for humans. “Human formulations are still being sold by some irresponsible companies in large veterinary-sized vials (30mm). These must also be outlawed to make illegal diclofenac use on cattle more difficult and expensive,” said Asad Rahmani, director, BNHS.


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