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 6 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. A few weeks ago, we announced the initiative by National Park Hohe Tauern (Austria) promoting the change to lead-free hunting in that protected area. We are delighted now to announce similar initiatives in the Cévennes National Park, within the framework of the Life Gypconnect project.
Yesterday an information meetings for hunters was organised in Florac by the Cévennes National Park, in close collaboration with the local hunters (Départment Lozère) and a ballistics expert, where the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition was promoted. A similar meeting will take place on the 24th in Meyrueis.
These meetings followed a questionnaire sent to hunters, and aim to address any technical aspects and to answer questions, particularly concerning ballistics. The aim is to identify in these meetings volunteer hunters that will then test non-lead ammunition for the next two seasons.
Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), in partnership with the VCF, Vautours en Baronnies, Centre National d' Informations Toxicologiques Vétérinaires, Electricité Réseau Distribution France, Parc National des Cévennes, Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, LPO Aude, and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie – Paris 6, the LIFE GYPCONNECT project aims to establish a breeding population of bearded vultures in the Massif Central, as well as in the Pre-Alps, through reintroduction, and promoting dispersal movements between the Alps and the Pyrenean populations. Last year 4 young bearded vultures were released in the project area, two in the Grands Causses and two in Baronnies – the first time that bearded vultures will be released in the latter region. This year at least 4 more birds will be released in the region.
Photo: Bruno Berthémy-VCF