Increasing incidence of barbiturate intoxication in avian scavengers and mammals in Spain

Marta Herrero-villar, Inés S. Sánchez-barbudo, Pablo R. Camarero, Mark A. Taggart, Rafael Mateo

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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Pharmaceuticals are considered emerging contaminants in terms of impacts on wildlife. One chemical group of concern is euthanasia agents used in veterinary medicine. Here we present data on the occurrence of barbiturate
intoxication using samples collected from 2004 to 2020 of suspected wildlife and domestic animal poisoning cases in Spain (n = 3210). Barbiturate intoxication was seen in 3.4% (45/1334) of the total number of confirmed
intoxicated animals. Barbiturates were detected in 0.2% (1/448) of baits containing detectable poisons. The most frequently detected barbiturate was pentobarbital (42/45, 93.3%), but we also detected phenobarbital, barbital,
and thiopental (2.2% prevalence for each). Avian scavengers were most frequently affected by barbiturate intoxication (n = 36), especially Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) (n = 28). Median pentobarbital concentrations
detected in intoxicated griffon vultures was 27.3 mg kg􀀀 1 in gastric content and 38.1 mg kg􀀀 1 in liver, which highlights the acute effect of the chemical soon after ingestion. At least two large intoxication events affecting griffon vultures were related to the consumption of carcasses from euthanized livestock. We also found phenobarbital in a prepared bait linked to the intoxication of one Eurasian buzzard (Buteo buteo). This study highlights the need for stronger regulation of barbiturates to avoid secondary intoxications due to improper
disposal of euthanized livestock.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117452
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date21 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


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