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Turkey Vultures Poisoned by Euthanasia Drugs

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed that several turkey vultures have been poisoned from the veterinary euthanasia drug pentobarbital in the Simi Valley area of Ventura County.

Seven turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) were found dead or impaired in Simi Valley in October. Two of these were successfully rehabilitated by the Ojai Raptor Center, but the other five died. Pentobarbital exposure was confirmed in the digestive system of one of the dead turkey vultures. The source of the exposure remains unknown.

Pentobarbital is a drug used by veterinarians to euthanize companion animals, livestock and horses. If the remains of animals euthanized with pentobarbital are not properly disposed of after death, scavenging wildlife – such as turkey vultures and eagles – can be poisoned. Veterinarians and animal owners are responsible for disposing of animal remains properly by legal methods such as cremation or deep burial.

Turkey vultures are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and California Fish and Game Code. Improperly disposed-of euthanized remains are a danger to all scavenging wildlife.

Members of the veterinary and livestock communities are asked to share this information with colleagues in an effort to prevent further incidents.

CDFW also asks the public to pay attention to and report grounded turkey vultures and other raptors and scavengers.

Pentobarbital-poisoned birds appear to be dead. They have no reflex response and breathing can barely be detected. The birds appear intact, without wounds or obvious trauma. Anyone finding a comatose vulture should report the finding to CDFW at 916-358-2954.

Brown and black turkey vulture with pinkish-red face on the stub of a tree limb, seen from the back
Turkey vulture on the stub of a tree limb. USFWS photos

Media Contacts:
Stella McMillin,  CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab, (916) 358-2954
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420