One quarter of Bangladesh is safe from recently exposed vulture-killing drug

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(Author: Shaun Hurrell; Photo: Jonathan Eames; 3 April 2017)

After successfully banning two drugs poisonous to vultures, Bangladesh is leading the way in Asian vulture conservation, and moving towards banning a third.

You may not remember how to pronounce it, but you quite possibly have heard of “diclofenac”, the vulture-killing drug which caused the most dramatic bird decline in modern history, wiping out over 99% of Asia’s vultures in the 1990s. If not, then after hearing that, you will surely not forget it. Day to day, concerned owners of livestock use non-sterroidal anti-inflammatories like diclofenac to alleviate pain in their animals. Unfortunately, once these animals die and are consumed by vultures, these drugs cause excruciating pain, kidney failure, and death to the birds.

All four of Asia’s resident vulture species have been listed as Critically Endangered since the diclofenac problem was exposed in the early 2000s (see below). Through the SAVE Partnership (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), BirdLife and the RSPB (BirdLife UK)

have been working to ban diclofenac in Asian countries and tackling other endangered vulture conservation issues, including creating protected “Vulture Safe Zones”. However, a suite of other replacement non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been exposed that pose lethal risk to vultures, such as “ketoprofen”.

Diclofenac was successfully banned in Bangladesh in 2010, and a further drug “aceclofenac” has similarly been outlawed. “Banning aceclofenac was another important step,” says Chris Bowden, Programme Manager of SAVE, and RSPB.

“It combated what can only be described as a ‘cynical exploitation of a loophole’ by drug companies, as aceclofenac is quickly converted to deadly diclofenac in a treated animal. This has been demonstrated experimentally and published by our SAVE research team.”

However ketoprofen quickly became the main replacement in Bangladesh—but this too has been shown to cause similar kidney failure and lingering death in vultures.

Thankfully, the Bangladesh government has now also declared a ban of ketoprofen in two Vulture Safe Zones—crucial areas for these birds which span 25% of the country. This includes the Bangladesh Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) has banned manufacturers of ketoprofen from selling, distributing, storing and exhibiting the drug in the Vulture Safe Zones. BirdLife applauds the Bangladesh government’s decision as this sets a great precedent for extending the ban to the entire country.

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