Europe has failed to take notice of the Asian experience with the cattle drug Diclofenac as it becomes more widely available on the continent. Used to treat animals for inflammation and other diseases vultures are unable to break down the chemical and die from renal failure. The impact of the drug was quick and devastating with vulture populations in India during the 1980′s running at millions of birds to barely a few thousand remaining by the late 1990′s.
Despite the drug being banned by India in March 2006, Nepal in August 2006 and Pakistan in late 2006 the drug has been authorised for use in Spain where 80% of European vultures live. There is no need for Diclofenac to be licensed for use in Europe as Meloxicam has the same effects on livestock but without being toxic to vultures.
Could the devastation of Asia – where over 99% of vultures died in just over a decade – be replicated in Europe? The drug is particularly toxic to vultures. A study in 2003 by Dr. Lindsay Oaks to try to find out what was killing all the vultures in India discovered just how toxic the drug was to the birds. The researchers concluded that if just 1% of dead livestock on by vultures had been treated with Diclofenac the impact would be catastrophic on vulture populations. In reality over 10% of animal carcasses had been previously treated with the drug.