This drug is now ‘a global problem’ threatening many vulnerable birds of prey. The Spanish Imperial Eagle, a threatened and endemic Iberian species, is now at risk too!
It is well known that veterinary diclofenac caused an unprecedented decline in South Asia’s Gyps vulture populations, with some species declining by more than 97% between 1992 and 2007. Veterinary diclofenac causes renal failure in vultures, and killed tens of millions of such birds in the Indian sub-continent. The drug was finally banned there for veterinary purposes in 2006.
It was then surprising and frustrating to find, late last year, that diclofenac had been licensed for veterinary use in Italy and Spain, thus creating a real and immense risk for European vulture populations. For the last few months the Vulture Conservation Foundation has led, together with BirdLife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK), SEO/BirdLife (Spain) and LIPU (Italy), a campaign aiming to ban this veterinary drug from Europe. EU decision makers can and should indeed revaluate the risk this drug poses to vultures, and cancel the legal marketing permits.
Now, a new scientific study, published today (Tuesday 27th May) in the journal Bird Conservation International, confirms that eagles are also susceptible to veterinary diclofenac, effectively increasing the potential threat level, and the risks for European biodiversity. Tests carried out on two steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis) found dead at a cattle carcass dump in Rajasthan, India, showing the same clinical signs of kidney failure as seen in vultures, indicated they had diclofenac residue in their tissues. The authors suggest that all the 14 eagle species in the genus Aquila are also probably susceptible to diclofenac.
Steppe eagles are closely related with golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetus), imperial eagles (Aquila heliaca) and Spanish imperial eagles (Aquila adalberti), and all these species scavenge opportunistically on carcasses throughout their range. The Spanish imperial eagle, considered Vulnerable at global level, is now particularly at risk, due to the availability of diclofenac in Spain.
These findings strengthen the case for banning veterinary diclofenac across. Tens of thousands of people, many leading conservation organisations, distinct veterinary bodies and several Members of the European Parliament have already questioned the EU Commission, the Spanish and the Italian governments, and the Italian company FATRO (the distributor of the drug in Europe) on the risks of this drug to European Vultures. Now, with unequivocal evidence that this veterinary drug can cause a much wider impact on Europe´s biodiversity, it is time for action – please ban veterinary diclofenac now!
Dr Toby Galligan, a RSPB conservation scientist and one of the authors of the paper, said: “We have known for some time that diclofenac is toxic to Gyps vultures, including the Eurasian griffon vulture, but we now know it is toxic to an Aquila eagle too. This suggests that the drug is fatal to a greater number of birds of prey in Asia, Europe and around the world. We had suspected as much from observed declines in non-Gyps vultures in Asia, but this study confirms our worst fears.”
Dr. José Tavares, the director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation, said: “The European Commission, and the Italian and the Spanish governments need to recognise this problem and impose a continent-wide ban on veterinary diclofenac before it is too late. This new paper raises the stakes – now it is vultures AND Eagles”.
For more information on the campaign to ban veterinary diclofenac in Europe, please check http://www.4vultures.org/our-work/campaigning-to-ban-diclofenac-in-europe/
For a video on the issue of diclofenac and vultures, please see http://vimeo.com/93067364
Sharma et al 2014 steppe eagle, diclofen Adobe Acrobat Document 266.2 KB Download