After pushing vultures to the verge of extinction in the country, the veterinary painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug, Diclofenac, is turning out to be a serious threat to eagles as well.
A research paper published in Bird Conservation International , a Cambridge University journal, says other raptor species such as hawks, kites and harriers that feed on carcasses of animals, will possibly fall prey to the drug too.
Scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the U.K.-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh conducted the study. Diclofenac residue was detected in the tissues of two steppe eagles ( Aquila nipalensis ) found dead in a cattle carcass dump in Rajasthan in February 2012.
“We conducted several tests on the bird carcasses that showed the same clinical signs of kidney failure as seen in vultures after they had ingested diclofenac,” Vibhu Prakash, co-author of the paper, told The Hindu .
The research paper says this is the first instance of diclofenac-related mortality in species outside the Gyps genus of vultures. Dr. Prakash says the drug should be banned, and suggests more studies.
The steppe eagle is a winter visitor to most areas in northern and central India and some areas in western and eastern India. It feeds on carcasses. Other species in the Aquila genus that are known to frequent carcass dumps include the tawny eagle, eastern imperial eagle and the Indian spotted eagle.
Scientists fear that all Aquila species are susceptible to diclofenac. With 14 species of Aquila eagles distributed across Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America, diclofenac poisoning should be considered a global problem.
The BNHS says diclofenac caused an unprecedented decline in South Asia’s Gyps vulture populations, with the number of white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures declining by more than 97 per cent between 1992 and 2007.
Following sustained advocacy efforts, the governments of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan banned veterinary diclofenac. But, formulations of the drug intended for use in humans are still widely available and illegally used to treat livestock.