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Switching Drugs for Livestock may save the critically endangered Vultures of the Indian subcontinent

Since the early 1990s, the population of vultures on the Indian subcontinent has been reduced by 95 %, including the species Gyps bengalensis, Gyps indicus and Gyps tenuirostris. In Europe, human persecution was obviously to blame for the eradication of griffon vultures and bearded vultures. But in India, the killing of wildlife is illegal and vultures are valued for their ecological function. The reason for their demise was therefore unexplainable.
The dead found in India, Pakistan and Nepal showed symptoms of visceral gout, like accumulation of uric acid crystals in the intestines which are associated with renal failure. The following investigation ruled out , pesticide intoxication and starvation. In 2004, a research team of the Peregrine Fund finally discovered that Indian peasants had started to treat their cattle and water buffaloes with the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) diclofenac in the mid-1990s. Pakistan and Nepal soon followed. Diclofenac is known to cause renal damage in mammals and it was concluded that the vultures were very sensitive to the which they ingested by feeding on the carcasses of lifestock.

A study conducted by the Gerry Swan and his colleagues from South Africa, Namibia, India and Great Britain reports a solution to the problem: an alternative to diclofenac.
They tested the drug meloxicam on wild and captive African white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus), who were equally sensitive to Diclofenac. Meloxicam is the only NSAID with no reported renal in vultures.

In contrast to the vultures treated with diclofenac, the meloxicam-treated vultures had no elevated levels of uric acid in their blood. The feeding on liver and muscel tissue of meloxicam-treated animals also caused no negative effects. Following this successful tests, the scientists finally used meloxicam for the treatment of Asian vultures who were healthy and alive for at least 4 months after the treatment.

Thus, the treatment of cattle and water buffaloes with diclofenac should be replaced by meloxicam as soon as possible to enable the vulture population to recover.

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