Association between hunting and elevated blood lead levels in the critically endangered African white-backed vulture Gyps africanus

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Abstract Summary

Lead (Pb) toxicity caused by the ingestion of Pb ammunition fragments in carcasses and offal is a threat to scavenging birds across the globe. African vultures are in critical decline, but research on whether Pb exposure is contributing to declines is lacking. In Africa, recreational hunting represents an important economic activity and can support conservation objectives; however, Pb in leftover hunted carcasses and gut piles represents a dangerous food source for vultures. It is therefore important to establish whether recreational hunting is associated with Pb exposure in African vultures. We explored this issue for the critically endangered white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) in Botswana by examining their blood Pb levels inside and outside of the hunting season, and inside and outside of private hunting areas. From 566 birds captured and tested, 30.2% birds showed elevated Pb levels (10 to < 45 μg/dl) and 2.3% showed subclinical exposure (≥45 μg/dl). Higher blood Pb levels were associated with samples taken inside of the hunting season and from within hunting areas. Additionally, there was a significant interaction between hunting season and areas, with Pb levels declining more steeply between hunting and non-hunting seasons within hunting areas than outside them. Thus, all our results were consistent with the suggestion that elevated Pb levels in this critically endangered African vulture are associated with recreational hunting. Pb is known to be highly toxic to scavenging birds and thus we need to urgently explore ways to reduce exposure to Pb ammunition to help protect this rapidly declining group of birds.

Abstract ID :
conservationsym2019160
Submission Type
LATE Oral Presentation
Submission Topic
Special Session: Lead in wildlife and the environment: Working towards ensuring that African wildlife is not harmed by exposure to lead

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