The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug nimesulide kills Gyps vultures at concentrations found in the muscle of treated cattle

Toby H. Galligan, Rhys E. Green, Kerri Wolter, Mark A. Taggart, Neil Duncan, John W. Mallord*, Dawn Alderson, Yuan Li, Vinny Naidoo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Throughout South Asia, cattle are regularly treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and their carcasses are left for scavengers to consume. Residues of the NSAID diclofenac in cattle carcasses caused widespread mortality and catastrophic population declines in three species of Gyps vulture during the 1990s and 2000s. Diclofenac is now banned, but other NSAIDs are used in its place. Different lines of evidence, including safety testing in Gyps vultures, have shown that some of these other NSAIDs are toxic, or probably toxic, to vultures. The NSAID nimesulide is widely available and commonly used, and has been found in dead vultures with signs of renal failure (i.e. visceral gout) and without the presence of diclofenac and/or other vulture-toxic NSAIDs. Nimesulide is therefore probably toxic to vultures. Here, we report safety testing of nimesulide in Gyps vultures. In a controlled toxicity experiment, we gave two vultures the maximum likely exposure (MLE) of nimesulide calculated from initial pharmacokinetic and residue experiments in cattle. Two other control birds were given an oral dose of water. Both vultures dosed with nimesulide died within 30 h, after showing outward signs of toxicity and increases in biochemical indicators of renal failure. Post-mortem examinations found extensive visceral gout in both vultures. Both control vultures survived without biochemical indicators of renal failure. With this evidence, we call for an immediate and comprehensive ban of nimesulide throughout South Asia to ensure the survival of the region's Critically Endangered vultures. More generally, testing the impacts of drugs on non-target species should be the responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry, before their veterinary use is licensed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150788
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart 2
Early online date4 Oct 2021
Publication statusPrint publication - 10 Feb 2022


  • Asian vulture crisis
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Pharmaceuticals in the environment
  • Safety testing


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