Lead bullet fragments in carcasses left by hunters are poisoning endangered African vultures, a new study has found
Date: March 15, 2018
Source: University of Cape Town
A third of all vultures caught and tested in the Botswana study showed elevated levels of lead in their blood, most likely due to ingesting lead bullet-contaminated flesh. Hunters' bullets shatter inside their prey and can then be absorbed into the blood stream of the vultures when they feed on these animals or their remains. This ingested lead is highly toxic to birds.
"We were all shocked by how widespread lead poisoning was for this population and just how clearly these elevated levels were associated with recreational hunting activity," said Dr Arjun Amar, Associate Professor from the University of Cape Town's FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, who supervised the research.
The study, published this week in the international journal Science of the Total Environment, is based on tests of nearly 600 critically endangered African White-backed Vultures. Higher lead levels were found in the blood of vultures in the hunting season and in hunting areas, suggesting that the source of the lead in their blood stream was lead bullets used for hunting.
"The only logical explanation for the patterns of lead poisoning we observed is if lead bullets were the source of this contamination" said the study's lead author Beckie Garbett, who conducted the research as part of her PhD.