Three years of work by Washington State University researcher Lindsay Oaks have led to a major discovery linking the decline of three Asian vulture species to a drug commonly used to treat livestock there.

Oaks, a microbiologist with the College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with an international team of scientists. The findings of their work will be published in the journal Nature, see http://www.Nature.com/nature.

Oaks is with a team of experts speaking at an international summit meeting Feb. 5-6 in Katmandu, Nepal. The team will reveal additional details of their findings and propose possible solutions to help mitigate the long-term decline of these rare species.

Oaks’ work links the veterinary use of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in domestic livestock with the catastrophic crash of three species of raptors.

This discovery is significant in that it is the first known case of a pharmaceutical causing major ecological damage over a huge geographic area and threatening three species with extinction,” said Oaks, the lead diagnostic investigator for The Peregrine Fund’s team.

Diclofenac is commonly used to treat livestock and is known to cause kidney damage in both birds and mammals. Cattle that die are the primary food source for the vultures.

Testing soon showed that tissues from all the affected vultures contained residues of diclofenac. When the records were examined, widespread veterinary use of diclofenac in south Asia also coincided with the population decline of the vultures.