Lead (Pb) is a metabolic poison that can negatively influence biological processes, leading to illness and mortality across a large spectrum of bird species, including vultures. Lead poisoning can result from numerous sources, including ingestion of bullet fragments and shot pellets left in animal carcasses, spent ammunition left in the field, lost fishing tackle, lead-based paints, large-scale mining, and lead smelting activities.
There is plenty of evidence on lead being a significant threat to vultures, usually after these scavengers eat carcasses with lead bullet fragments. Lead is indeed the most significant factor impacting on the reintroduction of the Californian condor, and is also probably one of the main causes of mortality for the bearded vultures in the alps – without any specific sampling programme we know that at least 7 of the 204 birds so far released in the Alps-Grands Causses (3%) have been poisoned with lead. Probably this figure is much higher, and lead poisoning may have a population-level effect on this species in some parts of the Alps.
It is then heartening to see some good initiatives happening across the region on this issue. The National Park Administration of Salzburg Province, in cooperation with the rifle masters of the Hohe Tauern National Park region and the Salzburg Huntsmen Association, is now actively promoting the change to lead-free hunting in the area of the national park.
Within this initiative, that will be implemented during this year, the National Park has will offer the hunting communities within the National Park from Salzburg region the following:
· Free check of the caliber and weapon as well as free advice from the rifle master
· Free chemical cleaning of the weapon by the rifle master
· 1 free pack of lead-free ammunition
· 25% discount on purchase of each additional package (up to a maximum of 5) lead-free ammunition.
The VCF congratulates the National Park Hohe Tauern for this initiative. We are working across the alps to mitigate this threat, notably within the LIFE GYPHELP and LIFE GYPCONNECT projects, where a number of actions on lead poisoning have taken place, including voluntary pilot schemes in which local hunters use non-lead ammunition. Any initiative to reduce the presence of lead in the wild will contribute in the conservation of the species in its habitat.
You can see some news about this initiative in Hohe Tauern (in German) below.
Photos: Bruno Berthémy-VCF, Rafael Mateo