Vulture population declined at a catastrophic rate on the Indian subcontinent over the past fifteen years. In the meantime three species are facing extinction. In 2004 scientists in the United States identified the cause: the drug Diclofenac. The use of this anti-inflammatory agent in veterinary medicine has meanwhile been banned, however,due to the lack of a suitable detection method, the ban could so far not been enforced effectively. This gap is now being closed with a rapid test developed by scientists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM).

Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory agent, has been deployed successfully in human medicine for decades. In most EU countries medication containing Diclofenac is only approved for treatment of humans. In India, Pakistan and Nepal it has been deployed in veterinary medicine as well since the 90s, in particular for livestock. When vultures feed on cattle carcasses, they too ingest the drug. As a result, the populations of three species of these birds of prey – the Indian vulture, the Oriental white-backed vulture and the slender-billed vulture – have shrunk to a mere three percent of their original number.

In light of this situation, the governments of the affected countries banned the use ofDiclofenac in veterinary medicine in 2006. Furthermore, centers for breeding and subsequentre-introduction of vultures into the wild have been set up and are enjoying considerable support from the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). However, it will take at least ten years before the first birds can be released back into the wild.

Raising the bird offspring with Diclofenac-free food, necessitates testing meat for possible traces of the drug. This calls for analytical detection methods that can be administered in remote breeding centers by staff with little or no professional training. The scientists of the Chair for Analytical Chemistry at the Institute for Hydro chemistry and Chemical Balneology atthe TU Muenchen have now developed just such a method.

Provided by Technische Universitaet Muenchen