As bird is found with large amounts of lead in its body, a biologist asks ‘Is Yellowstone as protected as we once thought?’
Christine Peterson in Newcastle, Wyoming
Tue 16 Apr 2019 11.00 BSTLast modified on Tue 16 Apr 2019 15.57 BST
The pioneering golden eagle took to the skies above Yellowstone national park in the fall and flew north, to areas where humans were hunting game. A few months later it returned to the park and was found on the ground, dead.
Scientists performing a necropsy on the creature, the first to be tagged with a radio transmitter in the park, made an unhappy discovery: it had been poisoned by lead. They are now raising concerns over whether US national parks are as safe for wildlife as they seem.
“This bird had a substantial amount of lead put into its system in a very quick way,” said Todd Katzner, a research wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey. “You don’t get that from breathing lead. It ingested something.”
The bird probably ingested lead ammunition fragments from big game carcasses. Lead bullets have been a source of controversy in the US hunting community for years. Conservationists argue for the use of alternatives such as copper bullets. Shooting sports advocates say non-lead ammunition is costly and that lead has been used for hundreds of years.
The topic has also become a flash point in national politics. In early 2017, the day before former president Barack Obama left office, his administration signed an order phasing out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on most federal lands managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The ban was overturned less than two months later by the former interior secretary Ryan Zinke.