Animal rights activists, environmentalists, scientists and biologists keep warning us about the detrimental effects of our mistreatment of the environment, but it seems that we need to take immediate measures if we want to stop the ongoing disaster.
Just like many other species, the bald eagles are under threat as well.
Animal shooting in the habitat of the American symbol of freedom and independence contaminates its food sources and indirectly causes its death. The shot animal is usually left to die or is gutted, with the carcass or the innards left out in the open.
Bald eagles are attracted to them and unknowingly consume toxic lead from the bullets. Bald eagles are helpless, and lead poisoning can show its symptoms within several days.
Hunters use lead ammunition because it is heavier than steel or copper, so the bullet reaches the target more accurately. Also, it is cheaper than steel or copper.
According to one 2014 study, 25% of nearly 3,000 eagles killed over the last three decades died from poison, most often lead.
It affects their nervous system, and they are unable to stand, open their beaks or fly, they have difficulty breathing and gasping tremors. Moreover, they also develop emaciation, eventually leading to death.
Betsy Finch, the manager of the Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery, claims that she can easily guess when an eagle has been poisoned with lead:
“Inability to stand, convulsions, head tremors, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress — because lead paralyzes the gut, so they can’t digest food, dehydration.”
Depending on the severity of the poisoning, veterinarians can save some by chelation therapy. They inject the birds with a drug that binds the toxins in their bloodstream and allows their removal from the body.
Yet, they need to put down the eagles that are in too much pain, and many eagles die despite treatment. This is not the first time the population of bald eagles has been threatened.
In 1963, the number of nesting pairs fell to only 487, due to habitat destruction, habitat degradation, illegal shooting and contamination of food sources as a result of the pesticide DDT.
Four years later, bald eagles south of the 40th parallel were listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and in 1972, the government banned the pesticide DDT.
By 1995, their status had been upgraded from endangered to threatened, and in 2007, they were officially removed from the list of threatened or endangered species.
To reduce the risk of lead poisoning, wildlife conservation groups campaign for the use of non-toxic slugs or bullets for hunting. They also ask hunters to remove all shot game from the field, hide gut piles and remains of carcasses, or to bury or cover them, and to remove bullets, slugs, fragments and surrounding flesh from carcasses left in the field.
David Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, advocates using copper bullets:
“If you’re going to kill an animal and leave it in the woods like that, let’s use a copper bullet. I know of no hunter who wants to hunt an animal and knowingly kill a bald eagle.”
Trahan also reminded that lead is toxic to humans as well:
“If I give meat to kids, to family, I want to make sure I’m not providing something to them that could be harmful.”
The Cape Fear Raptor Center’s executive director Dr. Joni Shimp, added:
“We need to target the big chain stores and get them to carry copper bullets. Then I can set up education days at these stores, with a vulture, red tail (hawk) or eagle and show the hunters and point them to the copper ammo. Then we can start to win this war … the war on lead, not on hunters.”