(India) cattle drug implicated in vulture deaths
hello_itz_me at hotmail.com
Thu Jun 19 16:35:50 EDT 2003
Vet drug blamed for vulture death
Cow painkiller may be toxic to scavenging birds.
Nature, Hannah Hoag, June 19, 2003
White-backed vulture numbers have fallen by 95% in India.
A massive vulture die-off in India may be caused by a veterinary drug
present in cattle flesh, hints a new study.
For over 200 years, the vultures disposed of the dead at the Towers of
Silence, a Parsi burial site that sits atop Malabar Hill in Mumbai, India.
But in the last decade, the population has plummeted by more than 95
percent, boosting the population of rabies-riddled feral dogs.
Now bird virologist J. Lindsay Oaks of Washington State University in
Pullman is proposing that an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac may be
poisoning the vultures. Vets in India use the painkiller in cattle. By
eating cattle carcasses, birds might be building up toxic levels of the
In a survey of shrinking vulture colonies in Pakistan, Oaks and his
colleagues from The Peregrine Fund found that vultures had died of kidney
failure, which could be caused by diclofenac poisoning, and that their
tissues contained the drug. Birds that had died of other causes did not test
positive for diclofenac, Oaks told the 6th World Conference on Birds of Prey
and Owls last month in Budapest, Hungary.
But wildlife epidemiologist Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of
London's Institute of Zoology is not convinced that the mystery has been
solved. He and his colleagues have built a vulture care centre in Haryana
state in India, where they are also searching for the cause of the birds'
Cunningham argues that birds on the Indian subcontinent may be suffering
from something different to those in Pakistan. "The signs point to it being
an infectious agent".
Indian vultures are sick for three to five weeks before they die, and have
inflammation in their nervous system, a mark of infection. In Pakistan,
birds die quickly and their organs are covered with a chalky white paste of
uric acid, characteristic of renal gout.
"There may be a combination of things going on," says Debbie Pain, head of
international research at the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
in Bedfordshire. She too says that an infectious agent cannot yet be ruled
Cunningham's team is surveying veterinarians, farmers and villagers to
understand how diclofenac is used, and analysing cattle tissues for
concentrations of the drug. "We are trying to prove or disprove the
involvement of this drug on a scientific basis," he says.
© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003
Tired of spam? Get advanced junk mail protection with MSN 8.
More information about the AR-News