Article confirms that lead poisoning is a threat for Egyptian vultures

Castor at the Wildlife Rescue Centre

A new article produced in the framework of the LIFE project "The Return of the Neophron" has been published in the latest issue of "Vulture News", the journal of the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group.

During the last years, there has been growing concern that vulture species are affected by lead poisoning. There has been much research about this threat among waterfowl species, but not so much for vulture and other large raptor species. Vultures would be exposed to lead intoxication when consuming carcasses of wild animals that have been shot but not recovered during hunting activities. Although conservationists have been campaigning for years against their use, hunting with lead ammunition is still permitted in most countries in Europe, while bans or simple recommendations to use steel ammunition instead apply only in wetlands.

The newly released article presents the case of Castor, an adult Egyptian vulture found in 2014 close to Kastoria, Northern Greece, with clear symptoms of lead poisoning. Lead levels in the vulture's blood were extremely high, measuring 3210 μg/L (values of more than 1000 μg/L are considered toxic). Although the X-rays revealed the absence of shots embedded in the vulture's body, it is known that lead is rapidly dissolved due to the low PH in raptor stomachs, so it can be quickly absorbed and cause sudden illness or death. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this is the first confirmed case of lead poisoning of an Egyptian vulture in the Balkans.

Thus, lead poisoning is added to the long list of threats that the species faces in the Balkans and its wintering grounds. Some simple practices implemented by hunters, such as shooting only the prey they can retrieve and removing all the remains of hunted animals from the countryside, may contribute to lessen this threat. However, in the long-term only the complete banning of lead ammunition will ensure that no vultures die from lead poisoning.

Thanks to the treatment received in the Wildlife Rescue Centre ANIMA in Athens, Castor was saved and released back into the wild after some weeks. What's more, Castor was tagged with a satellite transmitter and provided important information about the dispersal behaviour of a non-breeding individual, as well as the species migratory route and wintering grounds.

You can download the full article here.


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