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Thursday, August 23

Critically Endangered Indian vultures face threat from new veterinary painkiller Aceclofenac

Diclofenac, the widely used veterinary painkiller was a killer of vultures too, which has forced the Indian government to ban the usage of it as a painkiller on animals. But a recent research review shows that the pharmaceutical companies have introduced a new alternative named Aceclofenac, which is again fatal to the vultures in the country. 

White-rumped Vulture, Gyps bengalensis
White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis)
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The review published in the Journal of Raptor Research, points out that the new entrant has a structural and pharmaceutical similarity to the banned chemical. As per the empirical studies cited by the paper, Aceclofenac turns into the same lethal Diclofenac after metabolised inside the cattle body. 

According to the review, the non-steroidal drug which is used to suppress inflammations in animals is again toxic to the Gyps genus of birds which includes three major vulture species - Gyps bengalensis, G. indicus and G. Tenuirostris - found in South Asian countries. All the three are listed as Critically Endangered vultures by IUCN. The paper argues that the banned chemical and the alternative have at least two same metabolites in mammals, indicating that the use of the alternative chemical on cattle may harm the vultures in the region. 

Indian Vulture, Gyps indicus
Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus)
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Earlier studies have shown that the use of Diclofenac as a painkiller on cattle has brought down the vulture population in India as the chemical caused liver toxicity and renal toxicity to the vultures that ate the cattle carcasses. 

Safety testing and precautionary ban

The paper also calls for an urgent move to implement a regulation which makes it compulsory to subject all veterinary drugs to safety testing before they are administered on animals. It also calls for a precautionary ban on the use of the chemical till safety test on vultures are done and the metabolism of Aceclofenac on cattle is studied in detail. 

Being scavengers, the well being of vultures is a crucial factor in the survival of the food chains in a forest ecosystem. To save the vultures, the country has declared Ramadevarabetta near Bangalore in Karnataka as the first vulture sanctuary in India and is taking serious measures to conserve these critically endangered birds in the country.

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