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

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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; 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 we recommend that Pb ammunition in Botswana is phased out as soon as possible to help protect this rapidly declining group of birds. Keywords: African vultures, Botswana, Hunting season, Pb bullets, Pb poisoning, Scavenging raptors.

Publication Title:

Science of The Total Environment

Item Type:
Journal Article

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