This week, a group of scientists -- representing the agriculture, ecology, and biology departments at universities in Spain and Switzerland -- penned a letter saying the new drug diclofenac, which is used to treat pain in cattle, is a direct threat to Europe's wild vultures, most of which live in Spain.
Vultures can easily consume diclofenac when they feed on dead livestock carcasses. In 2003, researchers identified the drug's use in India as the culprit in rapid and widespread disappearance of vultures from the Asian subcontinent. The drug is now banned in India, as well as in Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and populations of white-backed, the slender-billed, and Indian vultures have slowly rebounded.
Diclofenac “cause[s] deposition of uric acid crystals in the visceral organs, and kidneys in particular, and it is kidney failure that actually kills the birds,” Chris Bowden told Science Magazine. Bowden is a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and an international species recovery expert.
The Spanish government approved the drug in March of last year.
In their letter to Spanish authorities the five scientists write: "European vulture populations could be seriously affected by the ingestion of diclofenac, and its use has become a matter of great concern for ecologists, politicians, and conservationists."
The scientists plea was published this week in the journal Conservation Biology.
Efforts to ban the drug are underway throughout throughout the world.
Spain's unwillingness, so far, to listen to the advice of conservationists is bad news for those efforts in Europe, Bowden added, but it also "sets a bad precedent for Africa and Asia where systems are less controlled."