Bird death disaster could spread

James Randerson Wednesday
November 8, 2006
The Guardian

//environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/story/0,,1941739,00.html

The "most significant conservation disaster ever" may be about to repeat itself around the world, according to research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Conservationists, already dismayed by the death of millions of vultures in India, Nepal and Pakistan, caused by the birds consuming a cattle drug, have found other bird species are also susceptible.

The anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is toxic to three species of Asian vulture - the oriental white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed. They die from kidney failure if they eat the carcasses of cattle treated with it. Conservationists estimate that 10-14 million birds have died; populations are still declining at 30% to 50% a year. "It's probably the most significant conservation disaster ever in terms of the number of birds lost," said Jemima Parry-Jones at the US National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

Dr Parry-Jones and the RSPB research team set out to discover whether diclofenac and related drugs are toxic to other birds. They asked zoo vets around the world for reports of unintentional bird deaths after treatment with the drugs. Of the 79 scavenging birds they received information on, the drugs were deadly for 30%, including the African white-backed vulture, saw-whet owl from North America, harris hawk, spoonbill, Eurasian gryphon vulture and African maribu stork. The researchers reported their results in the journal Biology Letters.

The manufacture and import of diclofenac was banned in India in August, although it is not illegal to sell off stockpiles. It is banned in the US and Europe, but is still used in parts of Africa and South America.


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