SAVE warmly welcomes the prompt action by the Government of India to gazette and provide legal reinforcement of national bans of two veterinary drugs well known to be highly toxic to vultures. This follows on swiftly from recommendations late last month. This is a highly significant step for vulture conservation, although further steps are still needed.
The Drugs Technical Advisory Board of India formally recommended national bans of the two veterinary drugs only a few weeks ago, so the official gazettement this week has come very promptly. There was a statement by the Indian Health Ministry and Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO), followed by a ruling of Delhi High Court in response to a vulture conservation petition submitted by advocate, Gaurav Kumar Bansal.
Both of the newly banned drugs are painkillers, frequently used by vets to treat cattle across the region in place of the earlier banned diclofenac which almost completely wiped out vulture populations across Asia since the 1990s. This move follows many years of safety-testing and peer-reviewed publication of research results by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and other SAVE Partners.
SAVE chair Jemima Parry-Jones commented “This shows how long-term efforts are now being heeded, and the formal notification and legislation coming swiftly after the Advisory Board recommendation is a further credit to the Indian Government in leading the way for the region.”
Dr Trivani Dutt, Director, ICAR-IVRI also welcomed the decision banning NSAIDs toxic to vultures to save these most threatened species.
Another veterinary drug, nimesulide, has also been shown to be toxic to vultures. Evidence published by SAVE partners and by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) has shown that vultures treated with the drug are killed and also that deaths of wild vultures in India are linked to the use of this approved drug. SAVE hopes that the Drugs Technical Advisory Board of India will soon recommend that veterinary use of this drug should also be banned.
Examples of harmful veterinary drugs
Peer-reviewed publications demonstrated the toxicity of ketoprofen to vultures back in 2010, leading to immediate calls for bans on its veterinary use, but despite this there had been no such bans on a national scale until 2021 when a decisive step was taken by the Government of Bangladesh. Calls for banning aceclofenac in India formally began back in 2014, as recent IVRI publications have corroborated earlier evidence that this drug metabolises almost immediately into toxic diclofenac once it is inside cattle and water buffalo and is therefore equally lethal to vultures. These decisions are therefore long-awaited but very welcome, being among the crucial actions towards saving Asia’s vulture populations from further declines.
Soaring White-rumped Vulture
Abhishek Ghoshal from the Vulture Programme of BNHS said “This is probably the most significant step towards vulture conservation since the diclofenac ban of 2006. It’s a result of long-term efforts from the Ministry (MoEFCC) and including state Governments especially Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam… and alongside with NGOs. Timely order notifications and on the ground implementation will now be pivotal.”
Vibhu Prakash, vulture expert, recently retired from BNHS said “These bans are long awaited and can’t happen soon enough. Wild populations of four Critically Endangered vulture species have declined by up to 99.9% and are not recovering in India due to this ongoing threat from cattle drugs which urgently needs such action.”
Despite the great news surrounding the ban on aceclofenac and ketoprofen, some serious problems remain with another NSAID nimesulide not included in this decision. The evidence that nimesulide is toxic to vultures is as strong as that for the other drugs, but despite this, veterinary use of nimesulide remains legal. Nimesulide use should also be banned, and even more importantly, there are no regulatory procedures in place to prevent new-to-market veterinary drugs being approved for veterinary use tomorrow. This leaves vulture populations at risk of being wiped out within a few years and all the progress made so far would be wasted. Until this regulatory problem is fully resolved, the self-sustaining captive ‘ark’ populations of the three Critically Endangered vulture species, which have been maintained in Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres by the Bombay Natural History Society for 20 years remain of absolutely vital importance.’
Dr M Karikalan, scientist and PI of aceclofenac and related studies at IVRI highlighted the importance of continuing safety testing of various NSAIDs used in veterinary practice and to identify additional safe NSAIDs for the veterinarians for animal use which are not toxic to the vultures.
Dr A M Pawde of IVRI said: “It’s pleasing to see the Indian Government responding to scientific evidence which our scientists have been working on for several years, and we realise that such safety testing of these veterinary painkillers on vultures is a necessary element needed into the future.”
Kishor Rithe, Interim Director of BNHS added “If nimesulide can also be banned nationwide, since evidence for the toxicity to vultures is equally clear and being published by BNHS and IVRI, then the future of vultures really will look significantly brighter.”
Jemima Parry-Jones added ”We can celebrate this positive step for vultures today, and now looking to Governments throughout Asia and Europe to follow this lead, and if all veterinary drugs can be screened for their toxicity ahead of being licensed, as recommended by the UN Convention of Migratory Species, then we can really look at a more secure future for these magnificent species which play such an important environmental role.
Note that the Delhi High Court case also raised the need for a nimesulide ban and for the safety-testing ahead of licensing veterinary drugs to avoid future threats – so despite this important progress the case remains pending and subject to adjudication.
Full Gazette notification [here] and here
Minutes of the Drugs Technical Advisory Board of India are available here.
Also see the SAVE NSAIDs alert page on our website for further details and information regarding the toxicity and related publications.
Plus the CMS NSAIDs Factsheet: here: https://www.cms.int/raptors/en/page/non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory-drugs-and-vultures
Relevant press links/coverage:
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