Wyoming Public Media reports that the first golden eagle to wear a tracking device in Yellowstone Park has died from lead poisoning. Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist and researcher on the Yellowstone Eagle study said the bird likely ingested the lead after eating prey that had been shot with lead bullets.
“A lead bullet that hits an animal will fragment into as many as 450 pieces,” said Katzner, “and in theory that’s 450 different pieces of toxin that can be ingested.”
Birds of prey are apparently most vulnerable to lead poisoning by ingesting prey because their stomachs are highly acidic.
“That very high acidity very rapidly breaks down the lead,” he said, “and so as a consequence, a small piece of lead that might pass through the digestive tract of a mammal actually ends up getting fully digested in a bird.”
Because bullets made of copper and other materials are less harmful to the birds, the Obama administration banned lead bullets in wildlife refuges. The ban was repealed under President Trump. Chris Parish, the conservation director for the Peregrine Fund, a Boise nonprofit begun by hunters and anglers, believes educating people about the toxic nature of the bullets is a better strategy anyway.
“If that info is shared,” Parish said, “hunters’ normal response is ‘I want to help, I have a strong conservation ethic and I want to help,’ but leading with the ban and not the information is the tough part.”
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