The story about diclofenac and vulture declines is an amazing one. And it is developing a nasty new twist.
Asian vultures crashed in numbers very rapidly. In the 1980s the Indian White-rumped Vulture was probably the commonest bird of prey in the world but its numbers (and those of other species) fell by around 99.9% in around a decade.
Biologists from the RSPB and ZSL tried to discover the cause – we thought it was probably a disease – but we were wrong and it was the Peregrine Fund who discovered that diclofenac, a drug used as a veterinary treatment of cattle, was poisoning vultures. Tiny amounts of diclofenac could kill vultures. A single feed from the corpse of a fairly recently-treated cow would be enough, when scaled up across southeast Asia, to cause the precipitous decline.
Banning diclofenac from India is quite a task – but progress is being made and there are plans to release some captive bred vultures (captive-breeding was itself a great achievement) into the wild soon. It could be the beginning of a recovery for vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal. It’s a fascinating story, and I know quite a lot about it from the inside, but we’ll leave it there for now. Fingers crossed!
The twist in the tale is that diclofenac has just been authorised for use in Spain and Italy where most of Europe’s vultures live. This is crazy. Utterly mad!
It really wasn’t anyone’s fault that diclofenac killed millions of Asian vultures. The drug had been tested and passed all tests. It seems that vultures are specially and particularly susceptible to it. And it took ages to discover what was happening. But now we know. And we know that good alternative veterinary medicines are available that work for cattle but don’t kill vultures.
Diclofenac must be banned as a veterinary drug in Europe in any circumstances where it could lead to vultures dying. Please add your name to this petition, now.
And by the way, if you are taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, then you may be taking diclofenac. Don’t worry – it’ll do the trick. Just don’t let any vultures nibble you!