India bans production and sale of vulture death drug
The Indian government has taken the crucial first step in reversing the plunge to extinction of three vulture species, by ordering a halt to the production and sale of the veterinary drug diclofenac within three months.
Slender-billed Gyps tenuirostris, Indian G. indicus and White-rumped Vultures G. bengalensis die from kidney failure after eating the flesh of cattle and water buffalo treated with diclofenac.
Pharmaceutical firms have been told instead to promote meloxicam, an alternative to diclofenac, which has been proved by scientists from BirdLife and elsewhere to be safe for vultures.
The three vulture species have declined by up to 97 percent in the past 15 years. All three are categorised as Critically Endangered. The White-rumped Vulture was probably the most common large bird of prey in the world prior to the diclofenac crisis.
The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) have set up two vulture breeding centres in northern India and West Bengal. These currently house 127 vultures, and two pairs attempted to breed for the first time this year.
But reversing the decline will be a slow business: vultures do not breed until five years old, and produce only one egg each year.
Studies have found that to cause vultures to decline at their current rate, less than one per cent of livestock carcasses need to contain lethal levels of diclofenac. Yet samples from across India indicate that 10 per cent of carcasses are contaminated with the drug.
"The decline of these Asian vultures has been quicker than any other wild birds, including the dodo.” —Chris Bowden, RSPB
Chris Bowden, Head of the RSPB’s Asian Vulture Programme, said: "This ban is exceptionally good news and the crucial step we have all been looking for. The decline of these Asian vultures has been quicker than any other wild birds, including the dodo."
"Making diclofenac illegal and removing it from shop shelves are the next steps - and we don’t yet know how big a job the latter will be," Bowden added. "But this ban may well be the turning point in saving the vultures from outright extinction."
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has been at the forefront of the campaign for a diclofenac ban. Director Dr Asad Rahmani said: "This is some of the best news of my life and shows that good scientific evidence has been accepted by the Indian Government."