Thursday, September 9, 2010

White-Backed Vulture in Danger of Extinction

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

In 1985, the Indian white-backed vulture was described as one of "the most abundant large bird of prey in the world." Since then, things have changed dramatically.

Since the 1990s, the population has dropped by more than 97% and conservationists believe that the species is reaching the point of unavoidable extinction. The culprit: Diclofenac, a bovine painkiller that poisons the birds. Diclofenac is also to help manage severe pain in humans from such maladies as arthritis. In spite of bans, bovine use of the drug is still common in South Asia — a practice that has been perpetuated by its effectiveness.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The painkiller — which is safe for use in humans; but, has been banned for veterinary use in North America, Europe, and parts of South Asia — produces astonishing results in cattle. Often, cows crippled with pain are able to stand and walk minutes after a single injection. This, of course, makes the veterinarian look good and makes it a popular panacea.

While Diclofenac may make the cow feel better, it is lethal to the vultures who digest it when scavenging the meat of dead cattle that have received the drug.

Within days of eating Diclofenac-laced flesh, a vulture's organs are coated in a thick, white paste, eventually causing organ failure.

Fifteen vultures rest in tree in Serengeti Park. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The test being proposed to identify diclofenac-tainted meat, which is simple enough for non-experts to administer, could quickly identify tainted carrion, helping conservationists select food for breeding centers and wildlife officials track veterinarians practicing in opposition to the ban.

Though trials have been promising, researchers were quick to add that more work had to be done to ensure the test was completely effective. "We can't afford," said Chris Bowden, the Vulture Program Manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, "to get it wrong even once."

Via TreeHugger

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