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Meloxicam- hope for dying Vultures of Indian subcontinent

PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 1:52 am
by shyvet
10Aug2006:The critically endangered vultures of South Asia are expected to get a new lease of life after the launching of a safe veterinary drug to replace the one that was tested positive as the killer of the big fliers.

The introduction of the drug Melox (short name for Meloxicam), which has come about, thanks to the joint initiative of the environmentalists and drug manufacturers, is hailed as an important step to save the three species of vultures that were pushed to the brink of extinction. Melox, launched in Nepal by Medivet, provides an alternative to Diclofenac, a drug being widely used to treat livestock in Nepal, India and Pakistan. Scientific tests proved that the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, was responsible for the critical deaths of the White-backed, Slender-billed and the Long-billed vultures. The scientific community was taken by alarm after more than 90 per cent of these carrion-eating birds, admired as the natural agents for environmental clean-up, were perished in the past one decade in the Indian sub-continent.

The vulture mortality is directly linked with the veterinary drug as the birds feed on the carcasses of domestic animals in the region. After long research works and lab tests, scientists discovered that South Asian vultures had died after consuming dead animals that were treated with Diclofenac. The drug caused kidney failures in vultures.

The bird-friendly drug Melox was certified after extensive safety tests by scientists in Britain, South Africa and India. As a safe alternative to killer Diclofenac, Melox is expected to give an environmental boost and help the concerned vulture species to regain life back from the verge extinction. Its launching has paved the way for putting total ban on Diclofenac that brought disaster for the environmentally friendly birds.

"The launch of Melox as a vulture-safe alternative, removes the last key obstacle for banning veterinary Diclofenac,"says Nepal's prominent bird scientist Dr. Hem Sagar Baral, past president of Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN). The concerned government authorities should now establish proper monitoring mechanism to make sure that the decision of the Department of Drug Administration to stop the production and import of Diclofenac into the country is strictly enforced, Dr. Baral says.

The introduction of Melox on July 28, 2006 is an important step to save the affected birds and the environment at large.
Significantly, Medivet announced that the new drug would cost not more than Diclofenac, a fact that prevents the possibility of illegal use due to cost-related factor.

In Nepal, Melox is available as an oral capsule and plans are afoot also to manufacture it in injectable form. Researches carried out by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) of Britain found that Meloxicam is safe to a wide range of scavenging birds including vultures, egrets and crows.

Out of the three affected vulture species of South Asia, Oriental White-rumped and Slender-billed vultures are the inhabitants of Nepal. Scientists at BCN estimate that the country lost over 90 per cent of population of these birds in less than 10 years. A survey conducted by BCN at Koshi Tappu in east Nepal recorded 67 nests of the vultures in 2000. One year later, this colony was found to have disappeared. Due to the poisonous effect of the Diclofenac, the birds witnessed similar rate of mortality in India and Pakistan.

The disastrous effects of Diclofenac on the vultures were discovered in late 2003 by the researchers working in Pakistan.

The IUCN has put the White-rumped, Long-billed and the Slender-billed vultures in the critically endangered category, the highest threat category available. These three species are found only in South Asia. A decade back, Nepal, India and Pakistan held more than 90 per cent of the world population of vultures. South Asia was home to tens of millions of vultures before Diclofenac came into veterinary use. It is estimated that less than 5 per cent of White-rumped vulture and less than 1 per cent of Slender-billed vulture remain in Nepal now. Fifteen years ago, the population of breeding White-rumped vultures was about 50,000 pairs which at present stands at less than 1,000 breeding pairs in the wild.

The critical population declines of vultures in Asia has led to problems including the sharp rise in the number of wild dogs. They now form crowds and scavenge on the cattle carcasses where flocks of vulture used to feed on. This has posed a new public health threats such as that of rabies.
Feral dogs are not as effective a clean-up agent as vultures and more litters of dead carrion are raising additional environmental problems such as ground water pollution and outbreak of diseases such as anthrax.

Vultures are generally seen as dirty birds and their environmental role go largely unrecognized. But the environmental experts say that the birds are important servant to keep our surroundings clean. Dead cattle are dumped in the open in Asian countries. Had it not been for these natural scavengers, outbreak of diseases would go out of control.

The vulture deaths in South Asia drew world attention as important members of the bird world were heading towards the point of no return. If the birds vanished forever, it would be an irreparable loss to the whole world, not a particular region or country. Therefore, the scientific community was under pressure to do something before it was too late. After the discovery that Diclofenac was killing the vultures and the threats had not declined, an international scientific meeting was held in Kathmandu in February 2004 that made important recommendations to save the highly endangered big birds.

The Kathmandu conference had called for an immediate ban on the killer drug Diclofenac. It exerted pressure on the governments in the region to put a total ban on the drug. But before that came into realization, finding an alternative drug that could treat the cattle and prove safe for the birds, was important. Safety tests were done on Meloxicam for the purpose.

A scientific team led by Gerry Swan of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, found that Meloxicam was safe for vultures yet effective for treating livestock.