May 24, 2006

India bans drug threatening to wipe out vultures

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has banned the production and
sale of an anti-inflammatory drug used in cattle that is
poisoning the country's vultures one step up the food chain.

Vultures fulfil a vital role, stripping down animal
carcasses that would otherwise slowly rot and attract
disease-spreading feral dogs and vermin.

But the number of South Asia's Oriental white-backed,
long-billed and slender-billed vultures has plummeted more than
97 percent over 15 years, which scientists say is largely due
to the widespread use of the drug diclofenac in cattle, which
causes fatal liver damage in vultures.

Now, India has ordered drug companies to stop making and
marketing diclofenac for veterinary use within three months.

"This ban is exceptionally good news and the crucial step
we have all been looking for," said Chris Bowden, head of the
Asian Vulture Program at Britain's Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds, in a statement.

"The decline of vultures has been quicker than any other
wild bird including the dodo -- and we know what happened to

India is recommending farmers and vets use the drug
meloxicam instead.

A study published in the journal PLoS Biology in January
said meloxicam was just as effective in cattle without being
toxic to vultures, even in high doses.

But without an outright ban on diclofenac, conservationists
are worried imported supplies will be used.