Bald eagles are constantly dying or becoming severely paralysed due to hunters using lead bullets. The lead is poisoning the bodies of bald eagles, as well as owls and other raptors, after they have eaten dead animals that have been shot by hunters who use lead bullets, according to a recent investigation by The Dodo.
Lynn Tompkins, the executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre in Oregon, has been trying to save raptors for 30 years. She tells the story of a bald eagle that was brought into the rehabilitation centre late last month. The bird was paralysed and couldn’t hold his head up, meaning that people had to carry the motionless bird whilst his head rested on his wing. The rescuers quickly cleansed his blood to rid him of the poison that was slowly killing him. Tompkins said, “His head was upside down when we got him. Lead affects the nerves, so that’s your brain, your use of muscles, all parts of the body. The birds often cannot stand … They usually have difficulty breathing. They cannot even open their beaks. Raptors are quite willing to be scavengers, so they scavenge. They eat things that have been shot. Lead ammunition is the biggest source.”
Birds that manage to survive severe lead poisoning will take months to treat and fully rehabilitate in a wildlife protection centre. Tomkins said, “We had one eagle whose lead level was relatively low, but she was paralyzed, she couldn’t stand, she couldn’t unclench her feet. It took several treatments to get the lead level down. It took several months for her to fly normally again. It took six months. That was a long time.”
Lower levels of lead exposure can also cause severe damage, which includes compromise to the eagle’s coordination and decision-making, which are both crucial to their survival in the wild. Tompkins commented, “This can put him in more dangerous positions, like scavenging along the road for roadkill and then he can be hit by a car.”
An effort to ban the use of lead ammunition in wildlife refuges was recently overturned by the US Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. The ban was intended to save animals from dying slow death from lead, which is a common occurrence currently, but Zinke argued that the interests of hunters were not sufficiently represented in the ban.
The latest bald eagle to visit the Blue Mountain rehab centre will never be able to fly freely again, due to the fact that the bird’s body succumbed to the poison that had reached his tissue, despite four days of treatments cleaning his blood. Tompkins noted, “This particular bird, every once in a while, he’d get startled and flap his wing out of fear, and then he’d stop. The treatment cannot reach the lead that’s already gotten into other tissues.”
Last year, Tompkins tested 160 birds for traces of lead. She said, “We’re finding it in more and more species. We started off with eagles but now we’re also testing hawks, owls and other birds.” Tompkins found that 80% of eagles, 30% of hawks and 25% of great horned owls had lead in their blood. She added, “So far this year we’ve had three bald eagles come into the center — all of them had toxic levels of lead. Lead is toxic. There’s no argument about that.” You can contact the rescue centre to contribute to the survival of raptors suffering from lead poisoning here.
IMAGE CREDIT:funniefarm5 / 123RF Stock Photo
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