Critically endangered vultures in India are still at risk of exposure to the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, through widespread illegal sales of the drug.
The Indian government banned use of the drug for veterinary purposes in 2006 after it brought vultures to the brink of extinction. Vultures were being poisoned after eating the carcasses of cattle that had been treated with the drug. The manufacture of diclofenac for human purposes is still allowed.
A study published last month in the journal Oryx, (Cuthbert, R.et al. Oryx, 45, 420-426) shows the ban is being ignored. The team undertook surveys of more than 250 veterinary and general pharmacies in 11 Indian states between 2007 and 2010. Diclofenac was sold in 36% of pharmacies, with up to 45% of investigated pharmacies selling the drug in western and central Indian states.
“Circumvention of the 2006 diclofenac ban is being achieved by illegally selling forms of diclofenac manufactured for human use for veterinary purposes,” the study says.
The study follows findings published in May that cattle carcasses in India contaminated with the drug declined by over 40% between 2006 and 2008.
“There has been some progress but diclofenac is still present at levels that will drive vultures extinct,” says Chris Bowden of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The drug is often current sold in liquid form in large vials. Through a consortium of conservation organisations, called SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction) Bowden is lobbying for the drug to be sold in smaller containers which would make it less useful and cost effective for veterinary use.
See Nature’s previous coverage: Asian vulture numbers dwindle
Picture source: PLoS ONEvia wikimedia under creative commons.