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Scientists have found a solution to the vulture crisis in India where large numbers of the birds are being wiped out by eating cattle carcasses contaminated with the anti-inflamatory drug diclofenac.

As previously reported, the Oriental white-backed vulture is particularly affected. A report by the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said it had "never seen such a rapid decline of any species" - caused entirely by toxic carrion.

However, there is a simple soultion - replace diclofenac with meloxicam, which is not poisonous to vultures. That, says Reuters, is the conclusion of a group of scientists from Britain, India, Namibia and South Africa whose findings are published today in the journal PLoS Biology.

They state: "We conclude that meloxicam is of low toxicity to (the) vultures and that its use in place of diclofenac would reduce vulture mortality in the Indian subcontinent. We recommend that governments consider advocating the use of meloxicam as an alternative to diclofenac."

The scientists also recommend acceleration of an Indian captive breeding programme for Oriental white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures. "Because vulture populations are now very low and contamination of even a small proportion of livestock carcasses is sufficient to cause adverse impacts on vulture populations, we also advocate immediate intensification of efforts to establish viable captive breeding populations," they concluded. ®

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