Assessing the ongoing threat from veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to Critically Endangered Gyps vultures in India

Richard J. Cuthberta1 c1, Ruchi Davea2, Soumya Sunder Chakrabortya2, Sashi Kumara2, Satya Prakasha3, Sachin P. Ranadea2 and Vibhu Prakasha2

a1 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK.

a2 Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India

a3 Neo Human Foundation, College More, Shivam Dharm Kanta, Hazaribag, Jharkhand, India


Use of the veterinary drug diclofenac is responsible for bringing three species of Gyps vultures endemic to South Asia to the brink of extinction, and the Government of India banned veterinary use of the drug in May 2006. To evaluate the effectiveness of the ban we undertook surveys of > 250 veterinary and general pharmacies in 11 Indian states from November 2007 to June 2010. Twelve different classes of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were purchased from 176 pharmacies. Other than meloxicam (of negligible toxicity to vultures at likely concentrations in their food), diclofenac and ketoprofen (both toxic to vultures), little is known of the safety or toxicity of the remaining nine NSAIDs on sale. Meloxicam was the most commonly encountered drug, sold in 70% of pharmacies, but 50% of the meloxicam brands sold had paracetamol (acetaminophen) as a second ingredient. Diclofenac and ketoprofen were recorded in 36 and 29% of pharmacies, respectively, with states in western and central India having the highest prevalence of diclofenac (44–45%). Although the large number of manufacturers and availability of meloxicam is encouraging, the wide range of untested NSAIDs and continued availability of diclofenac is a major source of concern. Circumvention of the 2006 diclofenac ban is being achieved by illegally selling forms of diclofenac manufactured for human use for veterinary purposes. To provide a safer environment for vultures in South Asia we recommend reducing the size of vials of diclofenac meant for human use, to increase the costs of illegal veterinary use, and taking action against pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies flouting the diclofenac ban.

(Received November 20 2010)

(Reviewed December 13 2010)

(Accepted February 18 2011)

(Online publication August 02 2011)


c1 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK. E-mail richard.cuthbert@rspb.org.uk