The use of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals is increasing. Over the past decade, there has been a proliferation of research into potential environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment. A Royal Society-supported seminar brought together experts from diverse scientific fields to discuss the risks posed by pharmaceuticals to wildlife. Recent analytical advances have revealed that pharmaceuticals are entering habitats via water, sewage, manure and animal carcases, and dispersing through food chains. Pharmaceuticals are designed to alter physiology at low doses and so can be particularly potent contaminants. The near extinction of Asian vultures following exposure to diclofenac is the key example where exposure to a pharmaceutical caused a population-level impact on non-target wildlife. However, more subtle changes to behaviour and physiology are rarely studied and poorly understood. Grand challenges for the future include developing more realistic exposure assessments for wildlife, assessing the impacts of mixtures of pharmaceuticals in combination with other environmental stressors and estimating the risks from pharmaceutical manufacturing and usage in developing countries. We concluded that an integration of diverse approaches is required to predict ‘unexpected’ risks; specifically, ecologically relevant, often long-term and non-lethal, consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment for wildlife and ecosystems.
wildlife; endocrine-disrupting chemicals; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; vultures; risk prediction; bioindicators
During the last two decades populations of three resident species of Gyps vulture have declined dramatically and are now threatened with extinction in South Asia. Sex identification of vultures is of key importance for the purpose of conservation breeding as it is desirable to have an equal sex ratio in these monogamous species which are housed together in large colony aviaries. Because vultures are monomorphic, with no differences in external morphology or plumage colour between the sexes, other methods are required for sex identification. Molecular methods for sex identification in birds rely on allelic length or nucleotide sequence discrimination of the chromohelicase-DNA binding (CHD) gene located on male and female chromosomes ZZ and ZW, respectively. We characterized the partial sequences of CHD alleles from Gyps indicus, Gyps bengalensis, Gyps himalayensis and Aegypius monachus and analysed the applicability of five molecular methods of sex identification of 46 individual vultures including 26 known-sex G. bengalensis and G. indicus. The results revealed that W-specific PCR in combination with ZW-common PCR is a quick, accurate and simple method, and is ideal for sex identification of vultures. The method is also suitable to augment ecological studies for identifying sex of these endangered birds during necropsy examinations especially when gonads are not apparent, possibly due to regression during non-breeding seasons.
Molecular sex identification; Gyps vulture; Cinereous vulture; Vulture conservation; Captive breeding
Populations of oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) and slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) crashed during the mid-1990s throughout the Indian subcontinent. Surveys in India, initially conducted in 1991–1993 and repeated in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, revealed that the population of Gyps bengalensis had fallen by 2007 to 0.1% of its numbers in the early 1990s, with the population of Gyps indicus and G. tenuirostris combined having fallen to 3.2% of its earlier level. A survey of G. bengalensis in western Nepal indicated that the size of the population in 2009 was 25% of that in 2002. In this paper, repeat surveys conducted in 2011 were analysed to estimate recent population trends. Populations of all three species of vulture remained at a low level, but the decline had slowed and may even have reversed for G. bengalensis, both in India and Nepal. However, estimates of the most recent population trends are imprecise, so it is possible that declines may be continuing, though at a significantly slower rate. The degree to which the decline of G. bengalensis in India has slowed is consistent with the expected effects on population trend of a measured change in the level of contamination of ungulate carcasses with the drug diclofenac, which is toxic to vultures, following a ban on its veterinary use in 2006. The most recent available information indicates that the elimination of diclofenac from the vultures’ food supply is incomplete, so further efforts are required to fully implement the ban.
Three Gyps vulture species are on the brink of extinction in South Asia owing to the veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac. Carcasses of domesticated ungulates are the main food source for Asia's vultures and birds die from kidney failure after consuming diclofenac-contaminated tissues. Here, we report on the safety testing of the NSAID ketoprofen, which was not reported to cause mortality in clinical treatment of scavenging birds and is rapidly eliminated from livestock tissues. Safety testing was undertaken using captive non-releasable Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) and wild-caught African white-backed vultures (G. africanus), both previously identified as susceptible to diclofenac and suitable surrogates. Ketoprofen doses ranged from 0.5 to 5 mg kg−1 vulture body weight, based upon recommended veterinary guidelines and maximum levels of exposure for wild vultures (estimated as 1.54 mg kg−1). Doses were administered by oral gavage or through feeding tissues from cattle dosed with ketoprofen at 6 mg kg−1 cattle body weight, before slaughter. Mortalities occurred at dose levels of 1.5 and 5 mg kg−1 vulture body weight (within the range recommended for clinical treatment) with the same clinical signs as observed for diclofenac. Surveys of livestock carcasses in India indicate that toxic levels of residual ketoprofen are already present in vulture food supplies. Consequently, we strongly recommend that ketoprofen is not used for veterinary treatment of livestock in Asia and in other regions of the world where vultures access livestock carcasses. The only alternative to diclofenac that should be promoted as safe for vultures is the NSAID meloxicam.
Gyps; vultures; toxicity; ketoprofen; diclofenac; NSAIDs
Contamination of their carrion food supply with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac has caused rapid population declines across the Indian subcontinent of three species of Gyps vultures endemic to South Asia. The governments of India, Pakistan and Nepal took action in 2006 to prevent the veterinary use of diclofenac on domesticated livestock, the route by which contamination occurs. We analyse data from three surveys of the prevalence and concentration of diclofenac residues in carcasses of domesticated ungulates in India, carried out before and after the implementation of a ban on veterinary use. There was little change in the prevalence and concentration of diclofenac between a survey before the ban and one conducted soon after its implementation, with the percentage of carcasses containing diclofenac in these surveys estimated at 10.8 and 10.7%, respectively. However, both the prevalence and concentration of diclofenac had fallen markedly 7–31 months after the implementation of the ban, with the true prevalence in this third survey estimated at 6.5%. Modelling of the impact of this reduction in diclofenac on the expected rate of decline of the oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) in India indicates that the decline rate has decreased to 40% of the rate before the ban, but is still likely to be rapid (about 18% year−1). Hence, further efforts to remove diclofenac from vulture food are still needed if the future recovery or successful reintroduction of vultures is to be feasible.
The house mouse, Mus musculus, is one of the most widespread and well-studied invasive mammals on islands. It was thought to pose little risk to seabirds, but video evidence from Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean shows house mice killing chicks of two IUCN-listed seabird species. Mouse-induced mortality in 2004 was a significant cause of extremely poor breeding success for Tristan albatrosses, Diomedea dabbenena (0.27 fledglings/pair), and Atlantic petrels, Pterodroma incerta (0.33). Population models show that these levels of predation are sufficient to cause population decreases. Unlike many other islands, mice are the only introduced mammals on Gough Island. However, restoration programmes to eradicate rats and other introduced mammals from islands are increasing the number of islands where mice are the sole alien mammals. If these mouse populations are released from the ecological effects of predators and competitors, they too may become predatory on seabird chicks.
invasive alien species; Mus musculus; island conservation; threatened seabirds
Veterinary treatment of livestock with diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), has caused catastrophic declines of Gyps vultures in Asia. This has highlighted a lack of knowledge on the potential impacts of NSAIDs on scavenging birds. Surveys of veterinarians and zoos document the outcomes of the treatment of over 870 scavenging birds from 79 species. As well as diclofenac, carprofen and flunixin were associated with mortality, with deaths observed in 13 and 30% of cases, respectively. Mortality was also found following treatment with ibuprofen and phenylbutazone. NSAID toxicity was reported for raptors, storks, cranes and owls, suggesting that the potential conservation impact of NSAIDs may extend beyond Gyps vultures and could be significant for New World vultures. In contrast, there were no reported mortalities for the NSAID meloxicam, which was administered to over 700 birds from 60 species. The relative safety of meloxicam supports other studies indicating the suitability of this NSAID to replace diclofenac in Asia.
Gyps; vultures; NSAIDs; diclofenac; meloxicam; toxicity
The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is a major cause of the rapid declines in the Indian subcontinent of three species of vultures endemic to South Asia. The drug causes kidney failure and death in vultures. Exposure probably arises through vultures feeding on carcasses of domesticated ungulates treated with the drug. However, before the study reported here, it had not been established from field surveys of ungulate carcasses that a sufficient proportion was contaminated to cause the observed declines. We surveyed diclofenac concentrations in samples of liver from carcasses of domesticated ungulates in India in 2004–2005. We estimated the concentration of diclofenac in tissues available to vultures, relative to that in liver, and the proportion of vultures killed after feeding on a carcass with a known level of contamination. We assessed the impact of this mortality on vulture population trend with a population model. We expected levels of diclofenac found in ungulate carcasses in 2004–2005 to cause oriental white-backed vulture population declines of 80–99% per year, depending upon the assumptions used in the model. This compares with an observed rate of decline, from road transect counts, of 48% per year in 2000–2003. The precision of the estimate based upon carcass surveys is low and the two types of estimate were not significantly different. Our analyses indicate that the level of diclofenac contamination found in carcasses of domesticated ungulates in 2004–2005 was sufficient to account for the observed rapid decline of the oriental white-backed vulture in India. The methods we describe could be used again to assess changes in the effect on vulture population trend of diclofenac and similar drugs. In this way, the effectiveness of the recent ban in India on the manufacture and importation of diclofenac for veterinary use could be monitored.
Three endemic vulture species Gyps bengalensis, Gyps indicus and Gyps tenuirostris are critically endangered following dramatic declines in South Asia resulting from exposure to diclofenac, a veterinary drug present in the livestock carcasses that they scavenge. Diclofenac is widely used globally and could present a risk to Gyps species from other regions. In this study, we test the toxicity of diclofenac to a Eurasian (Gyps fulvus) and an African (Gyps africanus) species, neither of which is threatened. A dose of 0.8 mg kg−1 of diclofenac was highly toxic to both species, indicating that they are at least as sensitive to diclofenac as G. bengalensis, for which we estimate an LD50 of 0.1–0.2 mg kg−1. We suggest that diclofenac is likely to be toxic to all eight Gyps species, and that G. africanus, which is phylogenetically close to G. bengalensis, would be a suitable surrogate for the safety testing of alternative drugs to diclofenac.
diclofenac; vultures; toxicity; Gyps; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
Veterinary use of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug diclofenac in South Asia has resulted in the collapse of populations of three vulture species of the genusGyps to the most severe category of global extinction risk. Vultures are exposed to diclofenac when scavenging on livestock treated with the drug shortly before death. Diclofenac causes kidney damage, increased serum uric acid concentrations, visceral gout, and death. Concern about this issue led the Indian Government to announce its intention to ban the veterinary use of diclofenac by September 2005. Implementation of a ban is still in progress late in 2005, and to facilitate this we sought potential alternative NSAIDs by obtaining information from captive bird collections worldwide. We found that the NSAID meloxicam had been administered to 35 captiveGyps vultures with no apparent ill effects. We then undertook a phased programme of safety testing of meloxicam on the African white-backed vultureGyps africanus, which we had previously established to be as susceptible to diclofenac poisoning as the endangered AsianGyps vultures. We estimated the likely maximum level of exposure (MLE) of wild vultures and dosed birds by gavage (oral administration) with increasing quantities of the drug until the likely MLE was exceeded in a sample of 40G. africanus. Subsequently, sixG. africanus were fed tissues from cattle which had been treated with a higher than standard veterinary course of meloxicam prior to death. In the final phase, ten Asian vultures of two of the endangered species(Gyps bengalensis,Gyps indicus) were dosed with meloxicam by gavage; five of them at more than the likely MLE dosage. All meloxicam-treated birds survived all treatments, and none suffered any obvious clinical effects. Serum uric acid concentrations remained within the normal limits throughout, and were significantly lower than those from birds treated with diclofenac in other studies. We conclude that meloxicam is of low toxicity toGyps vultures and that its use in place of diclofenac would reduce vulture mortality substantially in the Indian subcontinent. Meloxicam is already available for veterinary use in India.
Phased testing reveals that the anti-inflammatory drug meloxicam is less toxic to endangeredGyps vultures than diclofenac and, if used as an alternative, could potentially reverse the catastrophic decline of these species in South Asia.