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Another fatal blow to Asian vultures

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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white-rumped vultureAs if it weren’t bad enough that 99.9 percent of Asian vultures have been killed off in the past 20 years, now comes news that yet another potential man-made disaster waits in the wings.

Millions of Asian vultures, particularly those in India, have died off over the last two decades after being poisoned by the veterinary drug diclofenac. The vultures eat dead cattle and other livestock treated with the drug, then go into renal failure.

Now scientists have discovered that another veterinary drug, ketoprofen, is also fatal to the birds. Vultures which feed on the carcasses of livestock recently treated with ketoprofen suffer acute kidney failure and die within days of exposure.

The research was published this week in the journal Biology Letters.

Ketoprofen, like diclofenac, is an anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock to reduce pain and swelling caused by rheumatism or arthritis. It is sold under a variety of brand names.

The conservation organization BirdLife International, which sponsored the new research, is now calling for tighter controls on ketoprofen. The group is also calling for greater use of another drug, meloxicam, which is no longer under patent and is not fatal to vultures.

“Only meloxicam has been established as a safe alternative for vultures, while at the same time being an effective drug for treating cattle,” Vibhu Prakash, director of the Vulture Program of the Bombay Natural History Society, said in a prepared statement. “We would like to see other safe alternatives, but it should be the responsibility of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to test these to determine their safety to vultures.”

Image: The Indian white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), a critically endangered species which has lost 99.9 percent of its population due to diclofenac poisoning





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  1. 1. rosechalice 3:27 pm 12/10/2009

    Okay these drugs kill of the birds, what is their effect higher up the food chain and/or on people?

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  2. 2. rosechalice 3:27 pm 12/10/2009

    Okay these drugs kill of the birds, what is their effect higher up the food chain and/or on people?

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  3. 3. bertwindon 12:17 pm 12/11/2009

    No-one eats Vultures, and so "higher-up the food chain" doesn’t exist. And in any case your question is a digression from the subject. The stuff has killed most of the entire population of Asia’s Vultures. Therefore dead animals now lie-around and rot, which I guess is ok if you like the smell – and diseases which this promotes? (Both up and down the food-chain without doubt)

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  4. 4. jack.123 11:51 pm 12/11/2009

    Huh,bury or burn the dead animals.How stupid can people be?I guess they would want to blame someone else,rather than go to the effort of a simple solution,but of course they would no longer receive funding to do endless research at the expense of this species.What a bunch of jerks.

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  5. 5. scientificamerica 3:45 pm 12/12/2009

    jesus christ, you are all so short sighted its utterly unbelievable.. the world is fucked, because of you…

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  6. 6. anairhoads 9:51 pm 12/13/2009

    "…an anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock to reduce pain and swelling caused by rheumatism or arthritis." That says it all.

    The demand for meat is so intense that these animals are worked to death before being slaughtered. They are injected with a host of drugs – that meat-eaters, in turn, ingest. Then we have what you see here – vultures in Asia who are dying off from eating the flesh of these tainted carcasses. Cycle anyone?

    Ending our demand for flesh, eggs and dairy will effectively cease our need for "better" or "fancier" medications to treat livestock. These drugs are not only unnatural, but they are also preserving these animals’ lives long enough for them to be slaughtered. It’s sad that we have to lose vultures in order to see how horrible these practices really are.

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  7. 7. Peter Simmons 9:18 am 11/28/2012

    3. bertwindon – while thinking you’re superior, you fail to understand the comment you deride; the cattle, dummy, it’s the cattle dosed with poisons, and what of the ones that don’t die and get eaten by vultures? They are eaten by humans! Duh. Got it yet?
    The problem is human two dimensional thinking; dosing animals short-term to make more profits for farmers. American farmers are even more addicted to chemicals and anti-nature ‘treatments’ to ensure high profits. What ARE Americans eating????

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