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Vultures and diclofenac

Internet interest

The oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) has a brownish black plumage, and a naked scrawny neck accompanied with a white ruff of soft feathers around the base. A patch of white plumage on the back can be seen when it takes off. It roosts in trees along rivers, barrages, canals, cultivations, and particularly slaughterhouses, because it feeds exclusively on carrion. It is a common, resident vulture of Pakistan and India.

Starting in the 1990s, catastrophic population declines noted in India have continued across the subcontinent, and have included other vulture species. Surveys in Pakistan [1] have shown mortality in adults and young to be as high as 86%, with population declines as high as 95% between 2000 and 2003.

The reason appears to be that diclofenac has become widely used in veterinary practice. The residues appear in carcasses, and the vultures feed off the carcasses, or whatever parts are available from slaughterhouses. Whatever good the diclofenac does for the animals to whom it is administered, it does major harm to the vulture, causing renal failure [1]. Interesting though this is, it has a point. That point is that we sometimes get effects for which we had not bargained, and that adverse events are important.

Internet interest

OK, we live in the Internet age. So how is medicine and healthcare adapting to these new ways? A quick search revealed little evidence of much happening, but two jewels of studies from Korea and the USA provide real insight into how we can do things better, faster, and cheaper. More examples please!


  1. L Oaks et al. Diclofenac residues as the cause of vulture population decline in Pakistan. Nature 2004 427: 596-598.

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