There’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’.