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New research project on the presence of diclofenac and other anti-inflammatory drugs in avian scavengers in the Iberian Peninsula

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Avian scavengers and, in particular, some species of vultures, are extremely sensitive to the toxic effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as diclofenac, which they may ingest accidentally from the carcasses of domestic livestock treated with these products. In the 1990s there was a catastrophic mortality in the vulture populations of the Indian subcontinent. More than 40 million vultures died, or 99% of the population, and several species became close to extinction. This massive mortality was due to the consumption of carcasses of cattle treated with diclofenac. It has been later estimated that this mortality event could have been caused by only 0.8% of livestock carcasses containing diclofenac residues.

In 2013, the scientific and conservation community was dismayed at the licensing of diclofenac for veterinary use in some European countries, including Spain. This situation poses a serious risk for carrion bird conservation, especially for the Iberian Peninsula, which holds about 95% of the population of vultures in Europe.

The VCF has since been co-leading advocacy and communication efforts to ban veterinary diclofenac from Europe, and has been involved in a series of initiatives in that sense. The EU´s own European Medicine Agency has recognized the diclofenac does pose a significant risk to vultures in Europe, but stopped short of asking for a ban because it did not have access to the current use of the drug and/or specific cases of mortality of vultures in Europe due to diclofenac. It is therefore very positive for us to announce the start of a new research project that aims to identify the real extent of the use and impact of this veterinary drug in Spain and Portugal.

This project, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, a non-profit organization that invests in research to promote animal health, including wildlife, is led by a team of Spanish (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, Universitat de Lleida) and Portuguese (University of Aveiro) institutions, as well as The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota (USA). It will study the exposure of avian scavengers to diclofenac and other anti-inflammatory drugs in the Iberian Peninsula. This study aims to investigate the presence of residues and toxicity of these drugs in Iberian avian scavengers and to detect the possible presence of these drugs in the carcasses of domestic animals used for feeding at controlled supplementary feeding points. In addition, a risk analysis will be ultimately conducted using field data and information collected through surveys of veterinarians and personnel responsible for supplementary feeding points for avian scavengers, to evaluate the use of these drugs and the impact that they can have on Iberian vulture populations.

The results of this project will provide key information for the Spanish veterinary authorities who regulate the use of these drugs, which have already been banned in various Asian countries since 2006, and inform their future decision-making.

If you want more information please contact:

Ignasi Marco, Servei d’Ecopatologia de Fauna Salvatge (SEFaS) (Wildlife Health Research Group), Departament de Medicina i Cirurgia Animals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, ignasi.marco@uab.cat

Rafael Mateo, Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC) (Institute of Research in Game Resources), Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Spain, rafael.mateo@uclm.es

Photo: Iñigo Fajardo/VCF

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