Diclofenac the drug that has killed hundreds if not thousands of vultures has been approved for use in Spain.

 Vulture populations in many regions of Africa and India have been decimated by the use of Dicopenac
Spain approves use of drug beneficial to mammals – that will kill any vulture that feeds on a carcass containing traces of it. 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.

Diclofenac is a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that has wiped out vulture populations in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Now, a rrepeat of this ecological disaster is threatening Europe. Despite the fact that safe alternative drugs are readily available, Diclofenac has been authorised for use on domestic animals in Italy, and in Spain where 80% of European vultures live, and is now becoming widely available on the EU market. According to experts in SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), RSPB (BirdLife UK) and the Vulture Conservation Foundation, this may cause a European mass die off of endangered and ecologically valuable wildlife.Vultures have long suffered from unfavourable public opinion in Europe, but as species that are built to do the dirty work of ecological recycling, they are essential to the health and well-being of ecosystems. In Europe, four rare vulture species exist and are continuing to face threats to their survival. Egyptian Vulture is listed as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List of Species while Cinerous Vulture is listed as Near Threatened. Fortunately, thanks to decades of conservation efforts and millions of euros invested, vulture populations are recovering. The introduction of Diclofenac now puts these efforts and investments in jeopardy.

In India, Pakistan and Nepal, Diclofenac was regularly used in the 1990’s to treat cattle. When the animals died, Diclofenac remained in the body and was eaten by vultures, causing their almost immediate death. In about 10 years, the vulture populations in these countries has declined by 99%, bringing some of the most common and iconic large birds of the Indian subcontinent to the verge of extinction. This also led to serious human health consequences as the availability of unconsumed carrions led to an increase in stray dogs and spread of diseases such as rabies. Thanks to joint campaign efforts from the RSPB and its partner SAVE, Diclofenac has been banned in India and we are beginning to see signs of recovery for the Indian vulture population.

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.”
Sky Burial-Tibetan Burial Ritual dependent upon Vultures

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 Poto?nik, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, has attracted 21,000 signatures.

5 comments to Diclofenac the drug that has killed hundreds if not thousands of vultures has been approved for use in Spain.

  • John Miles

    Some one has paid a ‘back hander’! Does any one care!!

  • Richard Saunders

    India and other countries should be commended for their efforts. It’s hypocritical of the EU to license this drug given the wide availability of eg meloxicam, which we (Europeans) pushed India to use instead….

    Editor’s Comment. Richard thank you for those words of wisdom, we entirely agree with what you had to say. Unfortunately we seem to be living in world where power, money and greed take precedence over all other moral or ethical considerations.

  • paul williams

    Richard Saunders, Is it legal or illegal for gamekeepers or anyone else in England to possess and use carbofuran for pest control?

  • Daniel Marsden

    Richard, as serious as the issues are that are touched upon in this article, I put it to you that your time would be far more appropriately spent detailing to the public why, after over a decade since its conception and hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money spent, the future of the hen harrier in England is not only catastrophically worse, but almost certainly finished. Given the magnitude of investment from the public coffers I think its only right we’re due an explanation into why, on your watch and at your direction, the hen harrier has became more or less extinct as a breeding bird from England’s uplands?

    The single attempt in Derbyshire so far this year is by no means a reprisal from the above.

  • Pip Power


    I am sending this letter to my doctor tomorrow:

    Dear John,

    The damage to my kidney was the result of stones, ESWL and Diclofanac. As you will see from the article below, I have emailed the Dept of Agriculture to know if Vets in Ireland are given Diclofenac to farming animals that ends up in the food-chain?

    My Creatinine level is 209 and my Uric levels are also high. I used to eat RED MEAT 7 days a week, never thinking that Irish farmers & European farmers allow vets to use DICLOFENAC on their livestock. When I read this article:

    Median lethal dose for Gyps bengalensis (Vultures)
    This portion jumped out at me:


    For G. africanus, samples of spleen, kidney, trachea, lung, heart, liver, pancreas, bursa, brain, peripheral nerve, crop, proventriculus, ventriculus, duodenum, ileum, colon, cloaca, and skeletal muscle collected in 10% formalin and 100% ethanol for processing for light microscopic examination. After fixation the tissue were routinely processed, sectioned at 4 microns and stained with Haematoxylin and Eosin for examination.

    Histological examinations of both diclofenac-treated G. africanus revealed significant lesions in the kidneys, spleen and liver only, with extensive uric acid crystal formation within the kidneys and liver. The changes within the kidneys were widespread and severe, and were characterized mainly by necrosis of the lining cells of the proximal convoluted tubules (characterized by eosinophilia, pyknosis, karryorhexis and desquamation). A lesser number of tubules showed marked dilatation. The glomeruli and distal convoluted tubules appeared unaffected, and within the medullary cones the medullary loops were randomly dilated. Changes within the spleen and liver were similar, with multifocal areas of necrosis characterized by fibrin and uric acid crystal depostition.

    Similar histological examinations were performed on tissues from G. fulvus. At post-mortem all diclofenac-treated G. fulvus showed extensive visceral gout, and one bird showed articular gout. Extensive uric acid crystal deposition was found in the liver, spleen thoracic and abdominal air sacs, pericardium and myocardium. Kidneys of G. fulvus were pale and mottled in colour. These results from G. africanus and G. fulvus are similar to those of Oaks et al. 2004 for diclofenac-treated G. bengalensis (Oaks et al. 2004; Supplementary Information).

    I have now contacted the Dept of Agriculture, I asked if DICLOFENAC is being used on Irish farms.