Magazine article Science News

Bird Deaths Linked to Vet-Drug Residues

Magazine article Science News

Bird Deaths Linked to Vet-Drug Residues

Article excerpt

The recent puzzling crash in vulture populations in Pakistan turns out not to be some new bird plague, as conservationists had first suspected. Instead, birds eating livestock carcasses are dying in response to consuming a veterinary drug, says an international research team.

Three species of vultures--oriental white-backed, slender-billed, and long-billed--have been dwindling in Pakistan and India since the early 1990s, says veterinarian J. Lindsay Oaks of Washington State University in Pullman. He and his colleagues eventually homed in on diclofenac, a veterinary drug widely used to treat ailing livestock, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Nature.

It's the first time a common therapeutic drug has been documented to cause an ecological disaster, says Oaks.

Without swift intervention, "all three [vulture] species will likely become extinct in the wild within 5 years," says coauthor Rick Watson of the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho, one of the sponsors of the study.

Vultures play an important part in curbing ominous diseases such as anthrax and foot-and-mouth because the birds dispose of animal carcasses quickly, says Watson.

Ornithologist Andre Dhondt at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., says that consequences of vulture loss are rippling through the ecosystem. Already, he says, without vultures competing for carcasses, foxes have boomed, and the incidence of rabies has increased.

The vulture decline also brings cultural change to people, says Oaks. …

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