Painkiller ban to save vultures likely

Print edition : August 02, 2019

White-rumped vultures. Photo: REUTERS

The Government of India banned “Diclofenac and its formulations for veterinary use” in July 2008 with a view to conserving vultures and, in July 2015, allowed use of the drug as a single-dose injection for humans only. According to wildlife veterinarians, the key cause of vulture deaths is food poisoning. The birds were feeding on dead animals that had been administered the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac as painkiller. When the gyps species fed on these carcasses, they faced acute renal failure and died.

Vultures are among the top predators and are enlisted in the critically endangered category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In a related new development, the Government of India is also likely to ban the analogue NSAID aceclofenac for veterinary use, given its potential to kill vultures, according to K.K. Aggarwal, who reported this development on the medical news website According to him, the Drugs Consultative Committee of the Union Health Ministry had considered this issue in its 56th meeting held on June 1 in New Delhi.

A research note submitted by Vibhu Prakash, Principal Scientist and Deputy Director, Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre (VCBC), Panchkula, Haryana, on “Metabolism of Aceclofenac in cattle to Vulture-killing Diclofenac”, had apparently served as the basis for this move. The VCBC had requested prohibition on veterinary use of aceclofenac as well. In a 2016 research study, Toby Heath Calligan (of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds) and others found that nearly all of the aceclofenac administered to cattle in the recommended dose was very rapidly metabolised into diclofenac. The study pointed out that at least 12 other NSAIDs, besides diclofenac, were available for veterinary use in South Asia, and aceclofenac was one of them.

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