A killer drug continues to decimate Europe's last remaining vulture population, conservation groups have warned.

Speaking on World Vulture Awareness day on Saturday, a number of animal and environmental organisations, including BirdLife International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) said European neglect would lead to the extinction of the bird.

The conservation groups accused European leaders of putting the ambitions of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the environment, resulting in the death of the scavenger-bird.

“Spanish authorities are choosing pharmaceuticals over the environment. Vultures provide services to our farmers that are far more valuable than the benefits of this product, a product that can easily be replaced by safer drugs," Asunción Ruiz, CEO of SEO/BirdLife Spain, said in a statement.

"Our responsibility is to protect vultures at national and global level," he said.

Conservation organisations say the drug known as diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory used on livestock, has been proven to be highly toxic to vultures. The birds die within hours of eating the carcass of an animal that had been exposed to the drug. 

The drug is said to have been responsible for the death of millions of birds also in India and Pakistan. In 2005, India banned the production, importation and sale of veterinary of diclofenac.

Similar laws were inacted in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Conservationists say the move has turned the tide and deaths have slowed. 


RELATED: Vulture comeback?


Janice Weatherley-Singh, WCS Director of European Policy, said that the scientific community was united in warning of the dangers of diclofenac to vultures. 

"We are asking the European Commission to enact a ban on veterinary use of diclofenac because ‘Action plans’ and further study are not enough. We need to stop the harmful use of this drug in livestock immediately," Weatherley-Singh said in a statement on Saturday.

In late August this year, India banned multi-dose vials of human formulations of the painkiller diclofenac.

“India is again leading the way with its recent ban on multi-dose vials of human formulations of diclofenac. This is a breakthrough to eliminate this vulture killing drug from the ecosystems. If only Europe could ban the veterinary formulations now legally sold in Spain, Italy and a few other EU countries.”

Chris Bowden, Globally Threatened Species Officer and Programme Manager for SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), told The Hindu the move by the Indian government was among the biggest actions taken to protect the endangered species.

"The fact is nearly 12 million tonnes of rotting meat used to be consumed by vultures in India alone. These carcasses are now being consumed by feral dogs, whose population has gone up leading to dog bites and rabies. And so, conserving them is not just a purist view, but of conserving a larger environment." he said.

The dramatic demise in vulture numbers led to the almost-complete collapse of South Asia's carcass-disposal system. Experts say saving the vultures was imperative for South Asia from an economic and ecological perspective. 

At one point, South Asia had lost around 99 percent of its carcass-disposal system [AP]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies