Lead ammunition threatening the recovery of the Californian Condor

[singlepic id=311 w=216 h=290 float=left]Six California Condors, among the most endangered birds in the world, have recently been recovered suffering from lead poisoning.  Three of these subsequently died from lead poisoning from ammunition, while three others were treated for lead poisoning, according to The Peregrine Fund’s Condor Recovery Program in Arizona. This brings the total number of California condors killed by lead in the last 11 years to 19.

This tragic news comes as little surprise for those of us engaged in the lead ammunition issue. We expect more condor, eagle, and other bird deaths as long as lead remains an ingredient in bullets and shot used for hunting,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy.  “Ammunition manufacturers have introduced superior non-toxic ammunition both for shotguns and for hunting rifles, and hunters report the newer non-toxic bullets outperform traditional ammunition. The cost of non-toxic ammunition is now the same as for premium lead ammunition, that used by the majority of hunters.

The increase in performance at no additional cost should encourage hunters to switch to non-toxic ammunition,” he said. Ironically, this event comes at a time when some members of  the US Congress are trying to initiate action (House Bill – HR 1558 – and a Senate Bill – S.838.IS) that has the potential to further entrench the use of lead ammunition and result in additional poisoning of wildlife by preventing the U.S. EPA from regulating this highly toxic substance.

Approximately 30 condors were captured for testing after a hiker found one dead. Of those captured, five were found to have high levels of lead poisoning. Two of those later died. The San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research performed the necropsies.

“X-rays showed 18 shotgun pellets in the digestive system of one bird and six in another. The third had remains of a spent bullet in its system, all suggesting these scavengers died after eating one or more animal carcasses that had been shot,” said Chris Parish, head of The Peregrine Fund’s condor recovery program in Arizona.

The deaths come only weeks after a study by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service concluded that over one-third of the population of wild condors is chronically exposed to lead specifically identified by its chemical signature as being derived from spent ammunition.

Lead is a highly toxic substance that is dangerous to wildlife even at low levels. Exposure can cause a range of health effects, from loss of coordination and nerve damage to acute poisoning and death. Long-term effects can include mental retardation, reduced reproduction, and damage to neurological development.

Up to 10 million birds and other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the United States, including Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Loons, Trumpeter Swans, and doves. This occurs when animals scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit. Some animals die within days, while others suffer for years from lead’s debilitating effects.

Lead ammunition also poses health risks to people. Lead bullets fragment on impact into minute particles, spreading throughout game meat that people eat. X-ray studies show that hundreds of dust-sized lead particles can contaminate meat more than a foot and a half away from the bullet track. A recent study found that up to 87% of game killed by lead ammunition contains unsafe levels of lead when consumed by pregnant women or children. Nearly ten million hunters, their families, and low-income beneficiaries of venison donations may be at risk.

“The wildlife community needs to do a better job of educating hunters to the long-term damage that lead ammunition can cause to both wildlife and humans, and in countering the false claims by the gun lobby that this is somehow a conspiracy to ban guns. We need those hunters who already know this to help spread the word among their fellow sportsmen and women that this is simply the right thing to do,” said Fenwick.

The U.S. military recently announced their decision to switch to non-lead ammunition for certain small arms, calling the new bullets one of the greatest advancements in small arms ammunition in decades. This news undermines claims that non-lead ammunition is somehow inferior to lead-based ammo.

“If it’s good enough for our soldiers on the field of battle, then lead-free ammunition should be good enough for us to hunt with,” said Fenwick, himself a hunter.

Footnote: From information Raptor Politics has received, United Utilities remains the only Water Utility Plc Company in England where lead Ammunition is still being used to shoot game on their extensive upland  water catchments.

Related Story by Raptor Politics: http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2010/10/27/the-health-effects-of-low-level-exposure-to-lead/#more-2590


2 comments to Lead ammunition threatening the recovery of the Californian Condor

  • paul williams

    We have now a program in place to change our water pipes from lead to copper, if lead is toxic to us, then it is toxic to our wildlife. Lead Free…the way forward.

  • Lead is a highly toxic metal, so it is really important to find a way to avoid lead poisoning.