Vulture-killing drug still for sale

22nd January 2012
A toxic drug that threatens India's critically endangered vultures is still widely available, a survey has found.

Diclofenac was banned for use by vets and farmers in 2006 because of its effect on vultures that feed on livestock carcasses.

But researchers found the drug for sale in some form in 36% of the pharmacies investigated.

Despite advances in captive breeding, conservationists warn the birds' future in the wild cannot be guaranteed.

Three species of vulture native to India have suffered rapid population crashes since the 1990s: the Indian vulture (Gyps indicus), slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis).

Numbers of the latter species, also known as oriental white-backed vultures, are estimated to have dropped by 99.9% in the past decade.

Populations of Indian and slender-billed vultures have declined by 97% over the same period.

The vultures ingested the drug when feeding on the carcasses of livestock that had been treated shortly before their death.

For religious reasons, dying cattle are not killed to relieve their suffering in India so anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to reduce pain and swelling in injured and diseased animals.

Diclofenac was banned in India, Nepal and Pakistan in 2006 with further restrictions on its manufacture introduced in India in 2008.

But a survey published in the journal Oryx has confirmed conservationists' concerns that pharmacies are flouting the ban.

Investigating more than 250 veterinary and general pharmacies, researchers found that just over a third still sold the anti-inflammatory drug in some form.