Drug that wipes out vultures may cause an EU eco-disaster

Spain approves use of drug beneficial to mammals - that will kill any vulture that feeds on a carcass containing traces of it

A A A

Bureaucratic ignorance has allowed a drug that almost wiped out India’s vultures to be sanctioned for use in Europe – raising fears that authorities will have to spend vast sums collecting and incinerating animal carcasses which the birds usually dispose of.

Despite their unappealing looks, vultures make a vital contribution to public health in southern Europe.

But Spain, which is home to about 100,000 vultures, has horrified conservationists and bird lovers by approving the use of diclophenac – a powerful anti-inflammatory drug used that is beneficial to mammals but will kill any vulture that feeds on a carcass containing traces of the drug.

Diclophenac can also be used legally in Italy, where it was first developed. The country also has a small population of wild vultures.

About 95 per cent of India’s vultures disappeared after diclophenac was introduced in the mid-1990s, before eventually being banned in 2006. The result was a dangerous increase in rotting animal carcasses, which caused a rapid rise in the number of feral dogs, and the spread of rabies. One study put the resulting cost to Indian society at £20bn.

Spain, where vets can now legally use diclophenac, has about 90 per cent of all Europe’s vultures, including 97 per cent of one species, the Black Vulture.

A campaign has now begun to get the European Union to change its guidelines so the drug can be banned. A senior Conservative MP, the former Tory deputy Chief Whip, Sir John Randall, has promised to lobby the British Government to call for a Europe-wide ban. Sir John, who was a professional bird watcher before becoming an MP, said the introduction of diclophenac is “potentially devastating”.

Sir John added: “There is a real problem of ignorance. There is a false assumption that what is good for mammals is good for everything else, or at least not harmful. People assume that vultures belong in the Serengeti with the lions, but they are common in Spain and France; a wild vulture has even been seen in Holland. There was a Black Vulture spotted in Wales, but they think it escaped from somewhere. Vultures have always been disregarded because of the way they look, but actually they do a very, very good job.”

José Tavares, director of the Swiss-based Vulture Conservation Foundation, added: “Vultures fulfil an incredibly important role. They clean the countryside, they provide an ecological service that is free and unique. In a few depressed areas of Europe, they bring tourist income. If diclophenac becomes widespread in Europe, carcasses would have to be collected and incinerated at huge cost.

“There is some evidence that the drug may be toxic to other species. We are trying to get that evidence published. In the UK, there are no vultures, but if the drug is toxic to other birds of prey then the problem starts to be extremely relevant to the UK,” he added.

The Vulture Conservation Foundation has been lobbying the European Commission and is planning to post a video on YouTube. An online petition addressed to Janez Potočnik, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, has attracted 21,000 signatures.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Designer - Graduate Scheme

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join one of the UK's leading de...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor