photo courtesy: Allen Matheson

Article: "Vultures hold a critical position in the food chain and are renowned for their ceaseless scavenging. But their once-abundant numbers have been in decline for more than a decade."

Recent evidence links the use of the drug diclofenac to manage pain in agricultural livestock to the dramatic decline in the populations of 3 species of vultures in Asia. Diclofenic is from a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Diclofenac works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body.

Asian farmers began using the drug in livestock during the 90s and the resultant spread through the eco system has led researchers to conclude that it is the primary cause for the decline in vulture populations. Vultures fulfill their necessary role in the environment by scavenging dead animal carcasses and thereby over time accumulate toxic levels of dicofenac leading to kidney failure and ultimately, death.

"The decline of three raptor species of vulture across South Asia has been absolutely catastrophic," said Debbie Pain, head of international research at the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds RSPB).

In some areas the decline has reached an alarming 99% and puts the vulture at the top of the endangered species list. The resultant ripple effect through the system is the increase of other less desirable scavenger populations like feral dogs. An increase in the propagation of human diseases would follow.
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