Collateral Damage

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A hunter shoots a deer, guts it and takes the useful parts. The rest remains.

A farmer shoots a coyote that is decimating his flock of sheep. The carcass stays where it goes down.

A hunter wounds a rabbit, who dashes under a tangle of bushes and succumbs. His body lies undetected by the hunter.

Whether they are aware or not, the farmer and the hunters have left food behind for wildlife, notably raptors, which are birds such as hawks, falcons, eagles, condors and vultures. These ‘birds of prey,’ aside from being hunters in their own right, also feed on the flesh of the dead animals.

Also, possibly unbeknownst to the farmer and the hunters, if lead-based bullets are used, the leavings potentially could cause harm to the birds, could actually kill them if lead bullets, shot or fragments are ingested with the carrion.

It’s not uncommon for this unintentional damage to raptors to occur. A couple of stats: The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota reported that in the last twenty-four years over 500 eagles that had been admitted to their clinic either died or had to be euthanized due to lead poisoning. The Center for Biodiversity has reported 90% of the condors of California have suffered lead poisoning at least once and that 85% of the 120 injured eagles taken in by the Minnesota Raptor Center in 2011 had elevated blood lead levels.

It’s not uncommon, either, for intense efforts at rehabilitation to result in the healed birds being returned to the wild.

Why the heroic measures to save these animals? It’s not only that raptors are startlingly beautiful and powerful, that the speed and agility with which they soar and dart and dive fill you with awe.  It’s not only that these birds have evoked religious inspiration, and have been the subject of legends and myths.

It’s because, as predators, raptors play a major role in helping maintain the balance among all the members of a habitat. As part of the top of the food chain, they help keep the population of smaller, more prolific reproducers, like mice, from overrunning their neighborhood and outcompeting other species for limited food supplies.

So, why has there been no law to protect raptors by banning the use of lead bullets? After all, the danger of lead exposure has been known for some time. Lead has been removed from paint and from gasoline. But establishing laws regarding lead use in bullets for hunting has not been so straightforward. It has been an ongoing process for over twenty years and is fraught with controversy.

Where? Under what conditions? Which targets? These are all questions that have been bandied about in regards to passing legislation on the use of lead bullets.

Perhaps the increasing awareness of the unhealthy situation of the endangered raptors will energize the move to outlawing lead bullets for big and small game once and for all. Although just recently this administration has reversed a ban on lead ammunition in U.S. wildlife reserves.

Oh, well.

Hawk Species at Hawk Mountain | Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: Raptor Conservation, Education, Observation & Research