bald eagle, Whose Resurrection? Considered one of the great conservation success stories of the 21st century, is facing a serious threat: lead poisoning.
The researchers examined the feathers, bones, liver, and blood of 1,200 bald eagles and golden eagles, another Northern Hemisphere bird of prey, and found that nearly half of them had been heavily exposed. times with lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth.
According to the study, scientists believe that the main source of lead is ammunition from hunters who hunted the animals the eagles hunted, usually in the winter. published Thursday in the journal Science.
Nearly a third of the birds examined also showed signs of acute poisoning or short-term lead exposure, base on the researchled by scientists from the United States Geological Survey, Global Conservation Science, Inc. and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Vincent A. Slabe, lead author of the study and a wildlife biologist with Conservation Science Global in Montana, says the effects of lead poisoning are dire.
Lead poisoning can prevent eagles from digesting food, leading to starvation, he said. It can be so disabling, he says, that the eagle will not only lose the ability to fly, but also be able to move.
“Lead can affect every single system in an eagle’s body – its respiratory system, its digestive system, its reproductive system,” Dr. Slabe said.
Todd E. Katzner, a wildlife biologist at the US Geological Survey, said the study, which examined bald eagles and golden eagles from 38 states, is the first of its kind. examine the impact of lead poisoning on bird populations on such a large scale. .
The study also showed that the poison slowed population growth by about 4% for bald eagles and 1% for golden eagles, a number of about 35,000. According to researchers, the current population of bald eagles is more than 300,000.
“These percentages seem small, but over time, thousands upon thousands of birds are being removed from populations” because of lead poisoning, says Dr. Katzner.
Bald eagles decades ago were killed largely due to widespread use DDT . synthetic insecticide. A ban on DDT in 1972 and conservation efforts helped the population rebound, with bald eagles being restored. removed from the Endangered Species Protection Act in 2007.
Dr Slabe said he hopes the report’s findings will help educate hunters and encourage more of them to switch to lead-free ammunition.
“This is 100% man-made and completely preventable,” says Laura Hale, president of Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath Falls, Ore. lead poisoning.
In 2018, the team tried to save an eagle that a hunter found in the woods and couldn’t fly and was gasping for air. When Miss Hale told the hunter the eagle was most likely sick from ingesting piles of contaminated intestines – left over after a hunter tore up the animal – she said he had contracted it. sick.
Hale recalls: “He was terrified. “He wants to stop hunting.”
Ms. Hale said she told him he didn’t need to stop hunting; he just needs to stop using lead bullets.
Many hunters, concerned about the effects not only on wildlife, but also on the meat of animals consumed by humans, got away from lead bullets and have started using copper bullets.
Sporting Lead-Free, a Wyoming-based group of hunters and anglers seeking to raise awareness about the side effects of lead bullets, posted a short video with testimonials from hunters who stopped using it.
“Hunters are conservationists,” said Bryan Bedrosian, co-founder of Sporting Lead-Free and raptor biologist. “This need not be a polarizing issue.”
Some hunters, he said, are hesitant to switch ammunition because of tradition, mistakenly believing that copper bullets are less effective or because they have a backlog of lead ammunition.
“So there are still people who don’t know,” said Mr. Bedrosian, who said he uses lead ammunition at a range where he knows the bullets will not come into contact with wildlife.
Hannah Leonard, the group’s outreach coordinator, said she hunted with lead bullets until four years ago, when she came across a gaunt golden eagle hobbling on the ground while hunting in Anaconda. , Mont.
“Her claws were really tight, her wings were drooping,” Ms. Leonard said. “You can tell she’s in danger.”
The eagle later died and Ms. Leonard said the animal rescue team she called to try to save the bird told her the cause of death was lead poisoning.
“I don’t have the brains to switch ammunition,” she said.
In January 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a policy phasing out the use of lead bullets and fishing gear used by national wildlife reserves, a in the final acts of the Obama administration. Trump Administration reversed the decision less than two months later.
On Friday, the service declined to say whether that policy would be reinstated as a result of the new study.
There is a nationwide ban on the use of lead shot for water bird hunting since 1991, according to the service.
California prohibits the use of lead ammunition statewide, including on federal land, largely to prevent lead’s adverse effects on the endangered California condor.
“The United States Fish and Wildlife Service uses the best scientific data available to conserve wildlife populations and assess compatible uses on the lands we manage, as well as as per applicable local, state, and federal law,” Vanessa Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said on Friday.
Dr. Slabe said that hunters, once they were educated, would voluntarily stop using lead bullets.
“Hunters are very receptive to this matter,” he said. “Hunters are the solution to this problem.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/us/bald-eagles-lead-poisoning-study.html After returning, the eagle faces a new threat