Avian scavengers and the threat from veterinary pharmaceuticals

R. J. Cuthbert, M. A. Taggart, V. Prakash, S. S. Chakraborty, P. Deori, T. Galligan, M. Kulkarni, S. Ranade, M. Saini, A. K. Sharma, R. Shringarpure, R. E. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Veterinary use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac on domesticated ungulates caused populations of resident Gyps vultures in the Indian sub-continent to collapse. The birds died when they fed on carrion from treated animals. Veterinary diclofenac was banned in 2006 and meloxicam was advocated as a ‘vulture-safe’ alternative. We examine the effectiveness of the 2006 ban, whether meloxicam has replaced diclofenac, and the impact of these changes on vultures. Drug residue data from liver samples collected from ungulate carcasses in India since 2004 demonstrate that the prevalence of diclofenac in carcasses in 2009 was half of that before the ban and meloxicam prevalence increased by 44%. The expected vulture death rate from diclofenac per meal in 2009 was one-third of that before the ban. Surveys at veterinary clinics show that diclofenac use in India began in 1994, coinciding with the onset of rapid Gyps declines ascertained from measured rates of declines. Our study shows that one pharmaceutical product has had a devastating impact on Asia's vultures. Large-scale research and survey were needed to detect, diagnose and quantify the problem and measure the response to remedial actions. Given these difficulties, other effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment may remain undetected.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20130574
Number of pages20130574
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biologic
Issue number1656
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2014


  • 7ref2021


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