Researchers blame bird deaths on vet drug.

Researchers blame bird deaths on vet drug.

New research suggests that a common veterinary drug is responsible for the dramatic decline in Indian vulture populations.

In 1999, the RSC journal Pesticide Outlook was offered a paper on the decline in vulture populations in India, implicating pesticide residues. Just before publication, however, the paper was withdrawn on the grounds that a viral disease was thought to be killing the birds.

Now Lindsay Oaks’ research team from Washington State University, US, has shown that the population decline is due to the birds eating carcasses of livestock treated with the common veterinary drug diclofenac. The team found high concentrations of drug residues in dead Oriental white-backed vultures (Gyps bengalensis), one of the species to be listed as critically endangered.

In addition to the ecological implications of the decline in vulture populations in India, there are also socio-religious implications to the Parsee population whose Zoroastrianism beliefs demand that their dead be offered to vultures on so-called ’Towers of Silence’.

According to Zafar-ul Islam, projects manager for the Important Bird Areas Programme of India, ’vultures are keystone species and their decline is having adverse effects on other wildlife, domestic animals and humans’. He is calling for governments of all Gyps vulture range countries to ban diclofenac.

Hamish Kidd