Europe and Central Asia
4 Sep 2015

International Vulture Awareness Day: no cause for celebration?

Griffon Vulture
A Griffon Vulture soars high in the sky - but for how much longer in Europe? / Photo: BirdLife International
By Finlay Duncan

There are warnings tomorrow’s International Vulture Awareness Day (Saturday 5 September) could be one of the last the birds see in Europe.

Why? Because European countries are failing to tackle the use of a dangerous drug which could cause the extinction of vultures across the continent.

So say BirdLife International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who believe the future of vultures in Europe is grim, unless the European Commission moves to ban the veterinary use of diclofenac now.

In addition, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red List on the conservation status of species, has also been actively involved in calling for a ban to be imposed.

Looking elsewhere around the world, a ban in some Asian countries, including India and Pakistan, has helped to arrest the catastrophic effects on vulture populations there.

Disappointingly, EU member countries decided, following a meeting this summer, that the drug can instead be ‘controlled’ through vague action plans.

Indeed, vet diclofenac is still legally available in countries such as Spain, which is home to 95% of Europe’s vulture population. That’s despite the European Medicines Agency identifying the serious risk the drug poses to vultures.

Asunción Ruiz, CEO of SEO (BirdLife’s Spanish Partner), said: “Spanish authorities are choosing pharmaceuticals over the environment.

“Vultures provide services to our farmers that are far more valuable than the benefits of this product. A product which can easily be replaced by safer drugs.

“Our responsibility” - added SEO's Ruiz – “is to protect vultures at national and global level."

Jose Tavares, Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation, believes that “India is again leading the way, with the recent ban on multi-dose vials of human formulations of diclofenac. This is a breakthrough to eliminate this vulture killing drug from the ecosystems.

“If only Europe could follow the way and ban the veterinary formulations now legally  sold in Spain, Italy and a few other EU countries”

Janice Weatherley-Singh, WCS Director of European Policy, said: "The scientific community is united in warning of the dangers of diclofenac to vultures. We are asking the European Commission to enact a ban on veterinary use of diclofenac because ‘Action plans’ and further study are not enough.

“We need to stop the harmful use of this drug in livestock immediately. There should be widespread support for a ban since the existence of a safe alternative drug essentially eliminates any hardships that would be caused."

Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory used in animals such as cattle and pigs, but it is highly toxic to vultures and kills them hours after they have eaten a contaminated carcass.

A safe alternative to diclofenac exists and is widely available, which would limit any adverse effects of a ban.

For more information on BirdLife’s campaign to ban veterinary diclofenac, click here and see here for our fundraising campaign.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.