Vulture killing drug now available on EU market

The sale of diclofenac in the EU could undo decades of conservation efforts and millions of euros invested in vulture conservation (orientalizing; flickr.com)
By Communication Europe, Wed, 05/03/2014 - 10:09

Diclofenac is a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that has wiped out vulture populations in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Now, a repeat of this ecological disaster is threatening Europe. Despite the fact that safe alternative drugs are readily available, Diclofenac has been authorised for use on domestic animals in Italy, and in Spain where 80% of European vultures live, and is now becoming widely available on the EU market. According to experts in SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), RSPB (BirdLife UK) and the Vulture Conservation Foundation, this may cause a European mass die off of endangered and ecologically valuable wildlife.

Vultures have long suffered from unfavourable public opinion in Europe, but as species that are built to do the dirty work of ecological recycling, they are essential to the health and well-being of ecosystems. In Europe, four rare vulture species exist and are continuing to face threats to their survival. Egyptian Vulture is listed as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List of Species while Cinerous Vulture is listed as Near Threatened. Fortunately, thanks to decades of conservation efforts and millions of euros invested, vulture populations are recovering. The introduction of Diclofenac now puts these efforts and investments in jeopardy.

In India, Pakistan and Nepal, Diclofenac was regularly used in the 1990’s to treat cattle. When the animals died, Diclofenac remained in the body and was eaten by vultures, causing their almost immediate death. In about 10 years, the vulture populations in these countries has declined by 99%, bringing some of the most common and iconic large birds of the Indian subcontinent to the verge of extinction. This also led to serious human health consequences as the availability of unconsumed carrions led to an increase in stray dogs and spread of diseases such as rabies. Thanks to joint campaign efforts from the RSPB and its partner SAVE, Diclofenac has been banned in India and we are beginning to see signs of recovery for the Indian vulture population.

The EU and its Member States have a legal obligation to conserve vultures under the EU Birds Directive and EU Veterinary Drugs legislation that require avoiding ecological damage. An immediate ban on veterinary Diclofenac is needed to protect our vultures from the fate of their Asian cousins, and would also send a crucial signal encouraging African countries to stop the spread of Diclofenac, which is already affecting the highly endangered populations of African vultures.


Read more about our campaign and what you can do to help.

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As a birding visitor to the sub-continent in firstly 1993 next in 2002 the marked decrease in vultures was alarming, particularly when the cause later proved to be man-made (diclofenic). I made further visits 2003 (no vultures noted) and 2010, the latter visit was heartening as a few vultures were observed. It would be disastrous to think that due to thoughtless bureaucracy diclofenic was made available to southern European farmers.

Please do not repeat the ecological disaster of India. Ban this product.

It would indeed be a tragedy if our carelessness caused the same to happen here in Europe, especially with the alternative veterinary drugs available. It's great seeing all the support we're receiving around this issue and all the signatures we've already received on the petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/european-union-diclofenac-the-vulture-killing-drug-is-now-available-on-eu-market. Let’s hope our decision makers realize the threat and take action.

It is important to mention also other contagious diseases and other animals that are more difficult to control to motivate farmers to give up diclofenac. The rabies-argument and the risk of transferring it to people by dogs will not convince many farmers to stop applying diclofenac at their cattle. In southern Europe almost all dogs are vaccinated to prevent rabies, by yearly vaccination-campaigns, even in the smallest villages. Besides hunters (there are a lot of them) are accustomed to shoot dwelling, mostly abandoned dogs. So I think it increases their motivation when understanding the overall value of the vulture, as a natural prevention of many types of serious diseases for the human species.

Cannot believe the bureaucrats in Brussels can allow this to happen. Have they taken leave of their senses or are they getting kickbacks.

Now that this issue has been highlighted, what is the next step? Surely to organize a large scale petition or lobby to influence political decisions? Given the overall public interest in birds in general, large birds in particular and given the conservation status and legislation protecting vultures in Europe, surely Birdlife, the RSPB, OTOP and other organisations could use their influence to advertise the need to object to this decision among their followers?

Dear Usna, thank you for your comment. BirdLife and its national Partners are giving veterinary diclofenac threat the highest priority. On our website you will be able to read more about the steps we have already taken and out next priorities. RSPB, OTOP, LIPU, SEO/BirdLife, NABU…all European partners are working together through their national constituencies to ensure we take coordinated action. But there is also individual action that can be taken, we encourage you to visit our website to make your voice heard: http://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/project/ban-veterinary-diclofenac-now

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