National Wildlife Health Center

...advancing wildlife and ecosystem health

Vulture Die-offs in Pakistan

White-Backed Vulture
Photo by Munir Virani, courtesy of The Peregrine Fund

The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) is collaborating on investigations into the cause for decline of the white-backed vulture in Pakistan. Most of these vultures have died from kidney failure. Residue analysis in wild vultures from Pakistan and toxicity experiments have shown vultures, unlike mammals, to be extremely sensitive to diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, commonly used by veterinarians on agricultural animals in Pakistan. Small concentrations of this pharmaceutical remaining in tissue of livestock scavenged by vultures results in renal failure. These findings implicate diclofenac as the cause of drastic decline in the white-backed vulture population (90%) in the past 5 years. Vultures are exposed to diclofenac by scavenging agricultural animals that have been treated with diclofenac before death. The journal Nature has published the paper reporting these findings.

Conservation biology: Fatal medicine for vultures in Nature On-line

A Drug Used for Cattle Is Said to Be Killing Vultures in New York Times 1/29/2004

Diclofenac residues as the cause of vulture population decline in Pakistan in Nature On-line

Pharmaceutical May Cause Extinction of Three Species Press Release from The Peregrine Fund

For more information please contact: The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, at 608-270-2400.


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