The government has banned the use of Ketoprofen, a toxic veterinary drug that causes death to vultures, in the country’s two vulture safe zones, aiming to protect the nature cleaners from its extinction.

The Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) on Wednesday issued a circular, restricting the sale, distribution, storage and exhibition of Ketoprofen in any form in the safe zones.

In December 2014, the government declared two safe zones for vultures where ‘zero tolerance’ is shown towards using Diclofenac and other harmful veterinary drugs under article 20 (1) of  Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012.

The designated areas are Sylhet, parts of Dhaka and Chittagong covering an area of 19,663.18 sq km as Vulture Safe Zone-1, and Khulna, Barisal and parts of Dhaka covering an area of 27,717.26 sq km as Vulture Safe Zone-2.

As per a decision of the 5th meeting of the National Vulture Conservation Committee, the directorate also instructed all the Ketoprofen-producing companies to refrain from selling, distributing, storing and exhibiting the drug in the areas.

The White-rumped Vulture was once widely seen in Bangladesh but is now considered rare and thinly distributed one.

According to the data of IUCN Bangladesh, the country’s vulture population is less than 260 individuals.

During the last decade, it is scientifically proven beyond doubt that the use of Diclofenac and Ketoprofen in animals, especially in cattle, has led to the massive mortality and a sharp decline in the vulture population as both the drugs are poisonous to vultures.

IUCN vulture investigator ABM Sarowar Alam told UNB that the government earlier banned the sale of toxic veterinary drug Diclofenac and now banned Ketoprofen as well, which will help increase vulture population in the country.

Toxic veterinary drugs - Diclofenac and Ketoprofen – are widely used in treatment of domestic animals in the country. And when vultures eat the carcass of dead animals in which the toxic drugs were used, they immediately suffer from kidney failure, causing rapid decline in its population.

According to a study conducted by Dr Monirul H Khan, a teacher of Zoology Department at Jahangirnagar University, showed that the white-rumped vulture has declined by about 60 per cent during 2008 and 2012 in the country while 98 per cent in the last two decades.

The total population of the white-rumped vulture in suitable habitats across the country shows that vulture population has drastically declined from an estimate 1972 in 2008-2009 to 816 in 2011-2012.

Monitoring Challenges

Although it is a widely established notion that the use of Diclofenac and Ketoprofen in animals causes death to vultures, checking the use of these drugs will be a challenging task for the authorities concerned, say wildlife experts.

“The government had earlier banned the sale of toxic veterinary drug Diclofenac, but it’s still found in the market and the Ketoprofen’s will not be an exception,” said Sarowar Alam.

IUCN Bangladesh in 2015 carried out a pharmacy survey on 95 local drugstores in 11 districts of greater Sylhet and greater Mymensingh to identify the use status of toxic veterinary drugs that harm vultures.

The survey reveals that three different classes of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Diclofenac, Ketoprofen and Meloxicam) were purchased from pharmacies. Out of 95 pharmacies, 64 per cent of pharmacies stocked veterinary drugs.

As active ingredients, Diclofenac, Ketoprofen and Meloxicam are found to have 17 per cent, 50 per cent and 17 per cent drugs in different surveyed stores respectively. During the survey, a total of 2 injectable brands of Diclofenac, 8 injectable brands of Ketoprofen and two injectable brand of Meloxicam were recorded. Meloxicam is not harmful to vultures.

The survey found the banned Diclofenac drug in Trishal (Mymensingh), Taragong (Rangpur) and Syedpur (Nilphamary).