Dec 182017

The death of a bald eagle—a national symbol—in the U.S. capital has stirred a wider debate about potential impacts of lead bullets and other sources of harmful metals in the environment, especially given a recent ruling by the federal government.

When veterinarians in Washington, D.C., took in a bald eagle on Tuesday, it was already in the advanced stages of lead poisoning. The animal had been reportedly picked up in Nanjemoy, Maryland, by an area police officer, who told the Washington Post the bird was sitting only 100 feet from a rural road.

Once at City Wildlife, an animal treatment center, tests revealed high levels of lead in the bird’s system. Despite efforts to expel the toxic substance, the bird died late Wednesday night. The bird had shown no physical indications of lead poisoning aside from unusual behavior.

According to Kristy Jacobus, one of the women who treated the bird, it’s the third eagle the center has seen this year but the only one treated for lead.

Veterinarians were unable to save the eagle, and it died several hours after being taken in for treatment. Photograph by Paula C Goldberg, courtesy City Wildlife

“It’s not uncommon,” she said for the center to treat lead-poisoned birds. But more often, they deal with pigeons that ingest lead at construction sites. Eagles, however, tend to ingest lead when they consume animals that have been shot with lead bullets.

Without more situational evidence, it’s nearly impossible to say exactly where the eagle came into contact with lead. But most often, they encounter the toxic element when they scavenge for food. After hunters shoot an animal, they tend to gut it, leaving the innards out in the open. These “gut piles,” as they’re referred to, then attract scavenging eagles.

Lead poisoning tends to take several days or weeks. Some eagles ingest the lead-filled remains of several animals before succumbing.

How Populations Are Impacted Today

So, is this eagle a canary in a coal mine?

Exactly how many eagles or other raptors succumb to lead poisoning and where they’re being poisoned is unclear. For every bird of prey that’s brought into a treatment center, more die unnoticed in the wild. As bald eagle populations rebound from historic lows, the sheer number of eagles people come into contact with is also rising. Just this week, populations in Wisconsin reached record highs.

“We don’t have a good idea about the magnitude of the problem,” said EJ Williams from the American Bird Conservancy. “It’s a real case-by-case basis.”

In California, for example, condors were severely impacted by the use of lead ammunition. The birds were regularly consuming lead-contaminated remains of hunted animals, and their population struggled to grow.

To combat this, the state outlawed lead ammunition in hunting in 2013, in a requirement that will phase in gradually until 2019.

How Populations Could be Impacted in the Future

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reversed an Obama-era rule banning lead ammunition on wildlife refuges.

Lead-free bullets are typically more expensive, and those opposing the bill argued that hunting would become less accessible for lower income hunters. Banning lead bullets also touched a cultural nerve among pro-gun groups that oppose any roadblocks to using firearms.

Scientist and wildlife conservationists, however, have long been calling for a lead bullet ban. In 2013, a group of scientists collectively released a statement warning that lead bullets could have yet-to-be-seen and unknown consequences in the future. Lead ammunition currently amounts to the second most used source of lead in the U.S. and frequently discharges the toxic substance into the environment.

In their statement, the scientists noted that lead bullet fragments can poison birds and people that eat contaminated meat.

Today, there’s not enough evidence to prove how and to what extent using lead ammunition on wild lands will impact wildlife in the future.

“A lot of refuges have eagle populations,” said Williams, though she noted that park officials often choose internally to forgo lead ammunition.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 08 Dec 2017.

We invite you to share your opinion whether there should be a universal ban on the use of lead ammunition? Please vote and leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

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Editorial Comment: The purpose of this poll is to highlight important wildlife conservation issues and to encourage discussion on ways to stop wildlife crime. By leaving a comment and sharing this post you can help to raise awareness. Thank you for your support.


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Troadia Sanchez


Nadia Bouzerdeb Saidi


Bernadette Charline Gustin


Joelle Jojo Mamour Barrier


Isabelle Fernandès
La mort d’un pygargue à tête blanche – un symbole national – dans la capitale américaine a suscité un débat plus large sur les impacts potentiels des balles de plomb et d’autres sources de métaux nocifs dans l’environnement, en particulier suite à une décision récente du gouvernement fédéral. Lorsque les vétérinaires de Washington, DC, ont pris un pygargue à tête blanche mardi, il était déjà dans les stades avancés de l’empoisonnement au plomb. L’animal aurait été ramassé à Nanjemoy, Maryland, par un policier de la région, qui a déclaré au Washington Post que l’oiseau était assis à seulement 100 pieds… Read more »

100% ban it !

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

i am a senior citizen..i thought that by this time, after observing and trying to change, the epidemic of stupid and cruel, the deed would be if not done, at least in transit. why the @%#$#E would anyone want to shoot at any living thing…and one would think that with all the techsavvy advances and the exposure to humane behaviors, our species would evolve.

we are neanderthals with iphones…sad commentary!

Maggie Frazier
I agree – ABSOLUTELY! The question is – if these “hunters” exterminate the species they love to hunt – THEN what? Regardless of how I feel about it – I used to know people who actually made the effort to hunt. I feel there are fewer of them now than the ones whose only goal is to kill something. The mindset has not evolved from hundreds of years ago – ie, buffalo, wolves, mountain lions – any and all predators and NOW – our wild horses & burros! All so that livestock corporations and the fossil fuel industries are able… Read more »

If you would do research you will find American hunters provide for the species they hunt. White tail deer Elk, bear have came back do to what is called Conservation. Oh for your information Teddy Roosevelt invented Conservation of wildlife!.

Barbara Bee Sweetman


Dieter Reger


Anne Grice

An Obvious YES! And the sooner the better!

Jan Russert


Mars Greenwood

voted and shared

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