Tenuous threat of ‘killer drug’ Diclofenac to Scottish golden eagles

diclofenacThere’s a rather sensationalised article in today’s Scotsman claiming ‘Killer drug threat to Scotland’s golden eagles’ (see here).

The article suggests that Scottish golden eagles, and other raptors, could be under threat from the veterinary drug Diclofenac – the drug responsible for the catastrophic decline of several vulture species in parts of Asia. This drug has recently gone on sale in Europe, causing widespread concern for its probable effect on several European vulture species (e.g. see here).

The Scotsman’s scaremongering headline appears to be based on the results of a newly-published paper that reports on evidence of Diclofenac toxicity in steppe eagles in India. The link to golden eagles has been made because golden eagles and steppe eagles are in the same genus (Aquila).

However, if you actually read the paper, the evidence is based on only two dead steppe eagles. While of concern, it is still quite premature to transpose those results into a headline-grabbing article that suggests golden eagles in Scotland could be at threat. The study’s findings need to be expanded substantially and be based on a lot bigger sample size than just two individuals before the evidence becomes compelling.

Scottish raptors are unlikely to be at the same level of risk as species in Asia, given that livestock carcass dumps are not permitted here. However, some on social media are arguing that Diclofenac may be used (mis-used) as a substance with which to lace a poisoned bait.

Of course, Scottish golden eagles and other raptors could well be at risk, but then it could be argued that they are also at risk from a whole suite of potentially poisonous substances, some of them just ordinary household products, if those wishing to poison raptors choose to try out other chemicals. However, given the apparent availability of large stocks of the banned pesticide Carbofuran, and the known toxic effects of Carbofuran (i.e. fast acting and pretty much 100% effective), why would a poisoner risk using a chemical that ‘might’ work when he knows he’s got something that definitely will have the desired effect?

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the availability of Diclofenac in Europe – of course we should – but those concerns currently focus on the drug’s known effect on Gyps vulture species and thus its significant threat to at least three vulture species in Europe. For that reason, it should be immediately removed from the market.

As for Scotland’s golden eagles, the main threat continues to be the illegal use of the banned poison, Carbofuran. Of 15 eagles (golden & sea eagles) known to have been poisoned since 2006, 13 of them were killed with Carbofuran (see here). This poison has also been used persistently to kill hundreds of other raptors in recent decades, including buzzards, red kites, peregrines etc etc and it is no surprise that it has been named ‘the gamekeepers’ poison of choice’.

9 thoughts on “Tenuous threat of ‘killer drug’ Diclofenac to Scottish golden eagles”

  1. Having had an involvement with the Indian Vulture Project back in 2006..I am surprised and not convinced by the supposed steppe eagle link…at the rajasthan carcase dump site we monitored there were dozens of healthy overwintering aquila eagles..and no white backed vultures, the main victims of diclofenac. The white backs had previously been common there. It appears to be specific to a very narrow group of vulture species – which sadly included what was previously the most common vulture in India – literally millions have died.
    I can understand a national paper trying to get a scottish angle but they would be better directing their efforts at Europe – but of course we are in an era of narrow focus, with little recognition of the interconnectedness of nature. UKIP for climate scepticism for instance….

    1. That’s it, Dave! Cue the anti-predator brigade to add 2+2 and end up with 73! The reason for the vultures decline is the presence of these eagles. The eagles MUST be killing the vultures!

      Sod the scientific evidence of secondary poisoning being the cause. To hell with the evidence that these species have happily co-existed for millennia, until the arrival of these chemicals. It’s all there in your brief narrative! Dozens of eagles and no vultures, whereas the vultures were once common – Yes, it’s the eagles to blame! There’s no other explanation!

      1. ” The reason for the vultures decline is the presence of these eagles. The eagles MUST be killing the vultures!”
        Is anyone saying this? Am i missing something.

        1. Come on, it was clearly a tongue-in-cheek remark. Read the whole post and it soon becomes clear that it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.

          Having said that, some person or organisation with anti-raptor beliefs will be thinking along those lines, rather than accept the evidence that Diclofenac has been an environmental and ecological disaster.

  2. It’s just a matter of time that a human being will die from coming into contact with carbofuran that has been set out on bait to illegally target raptors and most likely it will be somewhere on the hills of Scotland where land is more accessible. That would be manslaughter. Anybody caught carrying out such an act and convicted must face jail. Even though the poisoners are putting poison out to illegally kill birds of prey they are fully aware that there is a chance that humans may accidently die from their illegal activities. At project Raptor we get sick to the stomach when we hear of yet another raptor poisoning incident, knowing the suffering that the bird will have gone through as well as the effect it will have had on the general raptor population. If we can’t get this issue taken seriously on the grounds of conservation and protection then may be we should make it loud and clear to the local communities where these incidents are uncovered that the criminals are putting human lives at risk also. May be this would get people coming forward with information on the poisoners. It is hard to believe that in the case of the Ross-shire kite and buzzard slaughter that nobody knows who the poisoner was.

  3. If you meet a local hill shepherd here in Angus on his quad bike the chances are very high that he will have veterinary drug bottles in his pannier for injecting his stock. I have recently had experience of this near a monitored schedule 1 site. In a remote hill area where a treated sheep dies sometimes the shepherd cannot find it. So this treatment and the concerns over it might very well be relevant in the near future.

  4. Cant speak for them but I’m pretty sure the RSPB has never said diclofenac is killing scottish eagles..the real danger in all of this is that it distracts the public and our decision makers [justice system and parliament] away from the real problem of actually directly abused poisons such as carbofuran and alphachloralose. There is no backlog of unknown secondary poisoned eagles or other raptors in Scotland – we know what kills them and of course, because of this Blog and over 35 years of detailed records, we know who is by far the most likely culprit. Gamekeepers.

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