The results of tests carried out on two Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis found dead in Rajasthan, India, have shown some worrying results.
Both birds had diclofenac residue in their tissues and exhibited the same clinical signs of kidney failure as seen in vultures.
Scientists now fear that all species in this genus, known as Aquila (which includes Golden A. chrysaetos and Spanish Imperial Eagle A. adalberti), are susceptible to diclofenac. With fourteen species of Aquila Eagle distributed across Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America, this means that diclofenac poisoning should now be considered largely a global problem.
Dr Toby Galligan, RSPB conservation scientist and one of the authors of the paper published in BirdLife’s journal Bird Conservation International, said: “In light of recent developments in Europe, our findings take on an even more worrying meaning. All Aquila eagles, like the Spanish Imperial Eagle, are opportunistic scavengers and therefore could be at risk of diclofenac poisoning. As we have seen in South Asia, wherever free-ranging livestock is treated with diclofenac, population declines in vultures and eagles can occur. The European Commission needs to recognise this problem and impose a continent-wide ban on veterinary diclofenac before it can impact on our birds.”
Worryingly, it was announced in March that the drug had been authorised for manufacture and use in Italy and Spain and had been distributed to other European countries. Since then, a coalition of organisations including the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and BirdLife have been campaigning for this decision to be reversed.
Ivan Ramirez, Head of European Conservation at BirdLife stated, “The findings strengthen the case for banning veterinary diclofenac across Europe and for the enforcement of bans in South Asia to stop the illegal misuse of human diclofenac to treat livestock.”
Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory drug whose veterinary use has been the main cause of the catastrophic 99% decline of several species of vultures in South Asia. Despite this tragic experience and while alternative safe drugs exist, it has now been confirmed that the vulture-killer drug is commercially available for veterinary purposes in at least two EU countries; Italy and Spain.
This new video commissioned by BirdLife and the Vulture Conservation Foundation and produced by Ran Levy-Yamamori presents the case, linking the threat in Europe with the Asian catastrophe, and appeals for urgent action. It also shows vulture species in the way that they should be portrayed; as vital, majestic birds who keep the balance in our delicate ecological cycle.
BirdLife, its Partners in Italy (LIPU) and Spain (SEO/BirdLife) and the Vulture Conservation Foundation have recently launched a campaign calling on the EU to ban veterinary diclofenac. Support our call now!
By Martin Fowlie and Elodie Cantaloube