Veterinary painkiller toxic to vultures

(stock photo)

A STUDY published in the scientific journal ‘Chemosphere’ shows the lethal effect a popular painkilling drug used in the cattle farming industry has on vultures.

The toxic drug is known as ‘carprofen’ and is from the same family of drugs as ‘diclofenac’.

The frequent and widespread use of diclofenac to treat cattle and buffalo in south Asia was responsible for the catastrophic population decline of vultures in that region.

Birds consuming the carcasses of livestock treated with diclofenac experienced severe renal failure and death within hours.

As a result, five species of south Asian vultures are now endangered or critically endangered.

This has raised concern among conservationists in South Africa about the impact similar veterinary drugs may have on indigenous vultures..


To better understand the impact of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on southern African vultures, a team of researchers from the University of Pretoria, the United Kingdom and associated conservation partners have been conducting a range of toxicity trials.

So far, only one common drug, meloxicam, has been shown not to kill vultures at the maximum level of exposure in a carcass.

Tens of drugs belong to this family and the toxicity of most remains unknown.

Professor Vinny Naidoo, a co-author of the study and Director of the Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Pretoria says,’We wanted to test carprofen because we had some evidence that this drug might be non-toxic to vultures.

‘This would provide vets and farmers with a vulture-safe alternative to diclofenac.’

Found in kidneys

Diclofenac collects in the kidneys of treated cattle and in the tissue around the site of the injection.

In a controlled experiment, vultures were given kidney tissue rich in carprofen or pure carprofen at the maximum levels measured in kidney tissue.

These vultures showed no toxicity, however researchers found that carprofen concentrations were much higher at the injection site than in the kidneys or liver of the cattle used in the experiment.

One of two vultures exposed to the average concentration found at the injection site died.

Post-mortem examination of this vulture found severe kidney and liver damage evident of NSAID poisoning.

‘Our NSAID safety testing provides the critical evidence needed to bring about bans and save tens of thousands of vultures,’ says Toby Galligan, a co-author of the study and Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science in the UK.


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Larry Bentley
Journalist / Editor: Agri Eco

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