How pain medication is killing India's vultures

Mumbai: Even as the ban on veterinary painkiller diclofenac and vulture breeding efforts are beginning to bear some fruit, new threats are looming on the horizon. A new painkiller aceclofenac, used on cattle, is equally dangerous to vultures, since it gets metabolized into diclofenac, shows a research.

A new research by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have drawn attention to how painkillers pose a threat to vultures.

 How pain medication is killing Indias vultures

Vultures Slender-billed. Image: BNHS

The new research paper titled “Aceclofenac as a Potential Threat to Critically Endangered Vultures in India: A Review” by Pradeep Sharma from Rajasthan University of Veterinary and Animal Science, Bikaner, emphasizes that it is important to understand the metabolic profile of veterinary painkillers.

Commenting on the issue, Sharma said, “A study demonstrating in vivo conversion of aceclofenac into diclofenac in cattle will be important. Once proven this will establish the exposure of vultures to diclofenac. The aceclofenac issue also points to the need for a comprehensive environmental evaluation of veterinary drugs before granting licenses. All other veterinary drugs, which we do not know much about, must be subjected to safety testing.”

The paper demonstrates that aceclofenac should not even be safety tested on vultures as its threat to vultures is already clear. Safety testing should focus on other molecules which are still in the grey area. Other drugs such as ketoprofen are also unsafe for vultures.

Referring to the recently held Symposium in Delhi to develop a regional response for saving South Asia’s vultures, BNHS director, Dr Asad Rahmani said, “In order to create a safe natural environment for vultures in South Asia, banning the unsafe drugs and safety testing of other potentially toxic drugs should be a priority.”

The four governments of South Asian countries had already agreed in the Delhi Symposium that it is important to create and maintain a non-toxic environment for vultures, by identifying and preventing the veterinary use of other unsafe veterinary drugs with similar toxicity as diclofenac.

Over the years, BNHS and RSPB have been successfully running Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres in three northern states of India, with help from the forest departments. Efforts are also on to measure the incidence of diclofenac after the ban and sustained advocacy and to find vulture safe zones across the country.

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2012 18:37:47 IST