Otto goes nontoxic

Last week was International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Since then I’ve come across a number of lead ammunition related snippets that are worth sharing:

Fragment 1. Here is a neat video which summarises the key issues around the use of toxic lead ammunition: Otto goes non-toxic There is some accompanying text too which is worth a read and you can learn more about what the European Commission are currently doing about harmonising regulations regarding the use of lead gunshot on wetlands (ECHA REACH). If you are keen to show your support for this process you could send this video link and the associated text to your MEP and ask for their support (we’ve still got a few months of influence left).

Fragment 2. A group of 54 scientists and health professionals from 17 European countries have written an open letter to ECHA supporting further measures to restrict the use of lead ammunition. The letter supports the case for further regulation by providing links to a raft of scientific publications and evidence.

Fragment 3. A few days ago I checked the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) website as I needed a reference for a report. It has been a while since I visited their ‘Lead Poisoning section’ and it looks like it’s had a bit of a revamp? Anyway, it’s definitely worth a look, if you are keen to learn more about the issue of lead poisoning and what the wonderful WWT are doing.

Fragment 4. In April of this year I attended the Global Flyways Summit in Abu Dhabi. This week the outcomes from that Summit have been finalised. There were a number of sessions, including a full day on Implementing the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP). Vulture experts from around the world discussed the latest science and conservation initiatives and produced a series of outcomes that are required to reverse the catastrophic decline in Vulture numbers. One outcome relates to lead ammunition: Lead toxicity caused by the ingestion of ammunition fragments in carcasses and offal is a well-documented threat to scavenging birds world-wide. The urgency to implement the Vulture MsAP objective ‘to ensure that CMS Resolution 11.15 on the phasing out the use of lead ammunition by hunters is fully implemented’ was further emphasised by a recently published study from Africa (since the adoption of the Resolution and the Vulture MsAP) showing a high incidence of elevated lead levels in living vultures, affecting around one third of those tested, and clear evidence of an association with recreational hunting.


Fragment 5. After several weeks I managed to spend some time working my way through various research reports and journals. One paper I was keen to read was published by Kathrin Ganz and colleagues on ‘Acute and Chronic Lead Exposure in Four Avian Scavenger Species in Switzerland’ published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (which sounds a bit scary!). The research looked at lead levels in Bearded Vultures, Golden Eagles, Red Kites and Ravens. Here is the full text of the abstract: Despite irrefutable evidence of its negative impact on animal behaviour and physiology, lethal and sublethal lead poisoning of wildlife is still persistent and widespread. For scavenging birds, ingestion of ammunition, or fragments thereof, is the major exposure route. In this study, we examined the occurrence of lead in four avian scavengers of Switzerland and how it differs between species, regions, and age of the bird. We measured lead concentration in liver and bone of the two main alpine avian scavengers (golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos and bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus) over the entire area of the Swiss Alps and two of the main avian scavengers occurring in the lowlands of Switzerland (red kite Milvus milvus and common raven Corvus corax). Of those four species, only the bearded vulture is an obligate scavenger. We found that lead burdens in the two alpine avian scavengers were higher than those found for the same species elsewhere in Europe or North America and reached levels compatible with acute poisoning, whereas lead burdens of the two lowland avian scavengers seemed to be lower. Several golden eagles, but only one red kite with abnormally high bone lead concentrations were found. In all four species, a substantial proportion of birds had elevated levels which presumably represent recent (liver lead levels) or past (bone lead levels) uptake of sublethal doses of lead. (The emboldening of the word irrefutable was my doing and is not emboldened in the actual paper).

Fragment 6. Last week the Standing Committee of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) approved International Species Action Plans for the White-headed Duck (as well as Dalmatian Pelican and Turtle Dove). The Action Plan also needs to be approved by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) later this year, and is also one of a suite of Species Action Plans being developed and implemented for the European Union as part of BirdLife International’s EURO SAP project. The White-headed Duck Action Plan highlights lead poisoning as a highly important threat to the species. (And yes, I did co-facilitate the initial planning workshop and compiled the Action Plan).

Fragment 7. An article has been published by Steve Percival and Eric Bignal in British Wildlife – ‘The Islay Barnacle Goose management strategy: a suggested way forward.’ You need to subscribe to British Wildlife to read the paper in full. However, The Ferret has produced an excellent summary. What caught my eye was this: They criticised the “common” use of lead shot, which they warned could pollute Islay’s water and soil. It was a “cause for concern” because of the risk the pollution poses to other wildlife, particularly ducks which can ingest toxic pellets. Given that more than 8,200 Barnacle Geese have been shot in the last 3 years alone, that must equate to quite a lot of lead shot deposited on the fields of Islay? I’ve only quickly read this article, but it’s interesting, I must find out more.

That’s quite a lot of lead fragments from just the last couple of weeks. All of it adding to the mountain of evidence that continues to stack up against the use of lead ammunition. No wonder some researchers and conservationists like to use the word irrefutable.

Lead fragments

Photo credits. White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) by Dick Daniels via Wikicommons. Lead fragments via Dr Mark Avery’s blog