Hunting may threaten vulture populations

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Illegal poisoning. killing for traditional medicine. and collisions with power lines are some of the biggest threats facing vulture populations. But new research shows vultures have yet another threat to contend with: a recent study has revealed that hunters using lead bullets could contribute to lead poisoning in vultures.

Rebecca Garbett. a PhD candidate in conservation biology at the University of Cape Town captured data from 566 white-backed vultures at 15 different locations in Botswana in order to gain more insight into the blood lead levels of vultures.

Although hunting in Botswana was banned in 2014. wildlife is still shot on private game farms.
Samples were also taken before and after the hunting ban. Results did not show decreased lead levels after the ban.

Of the 15 locations. some of which were studied before the ban took place. five sites were within hunting areas and eight outside.

Data shows that 32% of white­backed vultures had either sub-lethal or potentially lethal blood lead levels. likely from feeding on animals that had been shot. All birds sampled had lead in their blood. Although levels were significantly higher during hunting season.

Garbett says GPS tracking data from tagged vultures in Botswana shows these scavengers travel
widely across international borders throughout the year to find food.

Any animal shot below the neck with ammunition containing lead could be contaminated as bullet fragments scatter throughout the carcass. It is common for hunters to leave offal in the open for vultures to feast on after the slaughter.

High levels can reduce overall fitness and reproductive output, as no tolerable threshold level exists for either humans or wildlife.

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