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Report from the International Workshop of Vultures and Veterinary Drugs

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As part of our LIFE Re-Vultures vulture conservation project we organised an International Workshop of Vultures and Veterinary Drugs that took place in the  Visitor Centre of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park, Greece between the 19 and 20 February.

Over 60 participants joined us and  WWF Greece, the Management Body of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park and Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds for  this workshop. Participants came from France, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Greece, representing nature conservation organisation working on vulture conservation, international experts in this filed, relevant governmental institutions and veterinaries.

Understanding the threat to vultures from veterinary products 

For two days the workshop involved 15 great presentations, constructive discussions ad great side activities organised by WWF Greece and the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park. The workshop aimed to:

  • inform participants about current research projects and recent findings on negative effects to vultures of veterinary products from LIFE Projects and best practice experience form Spain and France
  • identify widely used veterinary products with potentially harmful effects to vultures across Bulgaria and Greece
  • review the current sampling and analyses protocols, guidance, practice and resources, identify gaps and make recommendations for improvements.
  • inform LIFE Re-Vultures After-LIFE plan about this subject and include recommendations and action to wider vulture conservation plans and policies

Veterinary diclofenac (a NSAID) has been proved to cause a +95% decline in the Indian vulture populations  and it is now, quite surprisingly, marketed legally in Spain and Italy (we and our partners are leading a campaign to ban it in the EU). Recently, the first case of a lethal poisoning of a Griffon Vulture by another NSAID  flunixin has come to light. Today many farm animals receive small/large doses of antibiotics and other veterinary drugs.

The main topic of discussion during the workshop was the negative impact of toxic products and contaminants suchas Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID), antibiotics, antiparasitics and anthelmintics, euthanasia drugs, esp. barbiturates which are an increasingly serious threat to the health of vultures and other scavenger species that feed on domestic animals.

Workshop Outcomes 

In our Workshop Report, which can be downloaded below, we outline all the outcomes and conclusions of the two day Workshop. These include:

During the course of the Workshop it was agreed that while illegal wildlife poisoning using pesticides was the main threat to vultures, exposure to harmful toxins in veterinary products is an emerging threat that we know little about in Bulgaria and Greece.

In order of priority and importance the potentially toxic products are: NSAIDs, Euthanasia agents, Antibiotics and Antiparasitics.

Assessment of farming practices, usage of vet drugs, supplementary feeding sites operations – very useful to inform potential analysis (questionnaires, etc)

From the food safety perspective, parameters that ensure human safety relative to animal carcasses but do not apply to scavengers.

In Bulgaria and Greece the state reference labs mostly focused on residues for human consumption on vegetables, meat and milk. Limited capacity-accreditation-engagement for analysis of wildlife samples

Poisoning by exposure to veterinary products is is an area that needs more research, monitoring, data and analysis to help evaluate the threat it poses to vultures in Bulgaria and Greece. To do this it is recommended that:

  • veterinarians and vulture conservationists needs to collaborate more and exchange information.
  • protocols on how to sample, store and analyse dead vultures and carcasses need to be established and followed
  • post-mortems are an essential step which can direct and inform analysis. Dead vultures give more data and potential for research (Liver/kidney/brain/stomach content for toxicology, vet drugs, heavy metals, histology). Whilst live animals provide a less comprehensive picture of the extent of the issue.
  • funding for lab analysis needs to included in funding gaps. There is a gap in the Balkans with a lack of labs for many of the analysis – developing this priority. Private labs, reference labs, research labs etc.
  • need to develop screening capacity in the Balkans, engage with state labs, explore private and research labs
  • need to feed wildlife data into the pharmacovigilance databases
  • improve and develop risk assessment of existing and new drugs, toxicity tests, more analysis
  • management of animal carcasses at supplementary feeding sites is important in terms of relative risk in and/or wider countryside: Kidney, liver and skeletal muscle samples should be taken.

As future step, all participants agreed that we should compile a list of approved veterinary dugs from all countries form the Balkan region.

The importance of the post-mortem

Post-mortem of a Cinereous Vultures during the Workshop
Post-mortem of a Cinereous Vultures during the Workshop

Lack of capacities for performing a thorough post-mortem was mentioned several times over the Workshop. Good post-mortem reports can be extremely valuable step in confirming the poisoning incident. Cannot confirm poisoning as cause of death, but can defiantly help to select the suitable samples for toxicological analyses and direct into a specific group of contaminates to be analysed – something that can safe effort, time and costs.  As Florence Roque was present at the Workshop, counting with great experience in avian post-mortems, out of the Workshop agenda we decided to organise a two hours of post-mortem training demonstration using dead Cinereous Vulture recently found in the area. This short training session appeared to be very helpful for the workshop participants, particularly for the local vets from Dadia.

Field trip

During the afternoon of day two of the Workshop, WWF Greece and the Management Body of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park organised several activities for the workshop participants, such as: visit to a Cinereous Vulture nest, birdwatching at the observatory facing the vulture feeding site, walk through the wonderful Dadia forest, etc.

Overall, excellent two days of workshop, great presentations, great discussion in excellent company and environment.

This Workshop was organized within the LIFE Project: RE-Vultures (LIFE14 NAT/NL/000901), Action E13 by the Vulture Conservation Foundation in close collaboration with WWF Greece,  the Management Body of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park and Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds.

LIFE Re-Vultures

Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of BirdsWWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the populations of Cinereous and Griffon Vultures in the cross-border region of the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, monitoring movements of birds to help understand the threats they face and carrying out activities that will reduce the mortality of the populations from threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and collisions with electricity infrastructure.

Report from the International Workshop of Vultures and Veterinary Drugs Prepared by: Jovan Andevski, Louis Phipps and José Tavares Vultures & Vet Drugs_ReVultures_E13-V1.p Adobe Acrobat Document 1.3 MB Download

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