Cattle drug threatens Europe's bird population

Cattle drug threatens Europe's bird population

It is not looking bright for Europe’s bird population right now, especially for vultures. This is due to a cattle drug that has been used as an anti-inflammatory. This drug was pointed to as the cause of the near extinction of vultures in what is considered an ecological disaster in India.

Researchers now have expressed their concerns about the use of this drug, diclofenac, in Spain since 2013. This is because the dead cows are eaten by the vultures and the drug is toxic to them. Rhys Green, a conservationist scientist at Cambridge, suggests that the use of this drug is likely to cause the population of the Spain’s Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) to decline by 1-8% every year.

“You can almost liken it to the rather macabre game of Russian roulette,” Green says. “Vultures eat about every three days on average, so that’s 120 days a year — and so that’s like 120 pulls of the trigger.”

Wildlife groups in Europe have launched a campaign throughout Europe to stop the use of diclofenac in Spain and Italy. They point out that allowing these countries to use this drug not only has the potential of wiping out populations of vultures in Europe but it also threatens other species, such as the golden eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle.

Around the end of the 20th century, diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory and painkiller for cattle, was introduced to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.  The problem started when vultures were eating the carcasses of dead cattle treated with the drug.  Within a short time, the population of vultures decline by 99.9% in all southern Asia.

José Tavares, Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation said, "It defies common sense to approve of a drug when there is abundant, solid evidence to show that it is deadly to so many species of birds and that it causes such ecological damage. We now know diclofenac was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of vultures in India. Several species were brought to the brink of extinction in the process. Once the Indian government realized that, it banned diclofenac. That was in 2006. Now two countries in Europe have decided to give it the go-ahead. It is simply appalling."

 

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