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Safety of meloxicam to critically endangered Gyps vultures and other scavenging birds in India


Devendra Swarup, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar 243122, Uttar Pradesh, India.


Widespread veterinary use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac is responsible for the population collapse of three species of Gyps vulture in south Asia; these species are now critically endangered. Vultures die when they consume carcasses of livestock that contain lethal residues of diclofenac. National and international conservation organizations have urgently recommended that diclofenac be banned and replaced with alternative drugs that are relatively safe to Gyps vultures and other scavenging birds. We tested the safety of the NSAID meloxicam on the oriental white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture and a range of other scavenging birds in India (Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus, cattle egret Bubulcus ibis, house crow Corvus splendens, large-billed crow Corvus machrorhynchos and common mynah Acridotheres tristis). Meloxicam was administered by oral intubation [at 0.5 and 2.0 mg kg−1 vulture body weight (bw)], or through feeding with muscle or liver tissue (at 0.3 to 2.1 mg kg−1 vulture bw) from meloxicam-treated buffalo Bubalus bubalis. We estimate that 2.0 mg kg−1 bw is the maximum likely exposure in the wild. All 31 Gyps vultures and the 20 other scavenging birds given meloxicam survived. Feeding behaviour remained normal and there were no significant differences between the treated and control groups in body mass, or the blood haematology and biochemistry parameters monitored, including those known to be affected by diclofenac (uric acid levels and alanine transferase activity). Meloxicam is used to treat a wide range of livestock ailments and is licensed and manufactured in India. We recommend that meloxicam be introduced as rapidly as possible across the Indian sub-continent as an alternative to diclofenac.

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