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The Cost Of Human Diversions

May 9, 2013

Lead from bullets used by hunters is killing off condors:

Today 234 birds are living in the wild (194 of them captive bred), but the prognosis for the species is scarcely brighter than in 1982; they’re being poisoned. When lead bullets strike bone they tend to splinter, impregnating meat and entrails with toxic fragments, any one of which can kill a condor. All manner of carrion-eating birds and mammals feast on the poisoned gut piles left when hunters field dress game…

…When vertebrates ingest lead, their bodies mistake it for calcium and beneficial metals, incorporating it into vital tissues. Symptoms include anemia, convulsions, paralysis, and deterioration of brain, eyes, kidneys, and liver. Humans generally survive lead poisoning, albeit with diminished motor and cognitive capacity. (Research indicates that after lead was removed from U.S. gasoline in the 1970s, children’s IQs rose an average of six points.) But to make it in the unforgiving world of nature, wildlife has to be fine-tuned. So lead-poisoning in wild mammals and birds is rarely survivable.

Today wild condors are on life support because of lead in their blood. They must be routinely captured and detoxed with calcium-based drugs. But the drugs strip away nutrients as well as lead, weakening the birds so they can’t be released for a month or more. A study by the University of California, Santa Cruz found that 48 percent of condors tested and treated between 1997 to 2010 had potentially lethal blood-lead levels.

Just one more reason that hunting is a culture and tradition that needs to evolve.

A California condor is treated for lead poisoning by National Park Service biologists. (Photo by U.S. National Parks Service)

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