Lead in the environment – the silent killer!

The blood test results of young vultures of the Kvarner population from the rehabilitation center showed that a third of the young birds had lead blood levels above the threshold of subclinical toxicity, while in one vulture it even exceeded the threshold indicating clinical poisoning

  • 06.02.2024.

Along with dangerous pesticides, asbestos, smog or mercury, lead is one of the most dangerous chemicals due to its toxicity and wide distribution in the human environment. Who gets harmed by lead? In addition to being a threat to wildlife, lead harms human health. It negatively affects almost every organ system. Lead is called the silent killer because lead poisoning usually develops slowly and the symptoms of poisoning are imperceptible. But, even small amounts have a negative effect on the health of people and nature. Lead causes a number of negative consequences, a decrease in cognitive abilities, lack of concentration, memory loss, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, kidney damage, numbness or pain in the limbs, and an increase in the likelihood of developing cancer. It is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women, where lead poisoning can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system.

One of the ways lead enters the environment is through lead-based hunting ammunition. The use of lead in hunting is a problem that negatively affects both nature and human health. Lead ammunition disintegrates into small pieces, so it first harms the hunter himself who inhales these particles or ingests them with game meat, and through the game that had been shot, hunting dogs, birds of prey and other predators are also being poisoned. It is important to emphasize that part of the untreated lead reaches humans again through the ecosystem.

Scavengers are among the first indicators of the danger of lead. Lead poisoning from hunting ammunition is one of the more serious threats to the survival of griffon vultures and other birds of prey.

On the topic of the dangers of lead poisoning, Biom Association organized a lecture for hunters as part of the implementation of the LIFE SUPport project, and on that occasion the lecturer, expert and practitioner of hunting and veterinary medicine, Dr. Vet. Med. Vedran Slijepčević, conveyed his practical experiences of using lead-free ammunition to the audience. The lecture was held on Thursday, February 1, 2024. at 18:00 at Učka Nature Park Visitor’s Center. The topic brought together more than 15 hunters from two hunting societies. During the discussion, hunters shared their thoughts on the use of lead-free ammunition, with the assessment that the price is not an obstacle for them, but they were more interested in the effectiveness of such ammunition. As part of the lecture, the Biom Association presented the LIFE SUPport project, and the Public Institution for Protected Area Management of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County “Priroda” shared its experiences with the problem of lead poisoning in Kvarner griffon vultures. Of particular concern is the fact that the results of the blood tests of young vultures of the Kvarner population from the rehabilitation center showed that as many as a third of the young birds, which are exclusively fed with the help of their parents, had blood lead levels above the threshold of subclinical toxicity, while in one vulture it even exceeded the threshold that indicates clinical poisoning.

dr. vet. med. Vedran Slijepčević

Hunters will be given free lead-free hunting bullets as part of the LIFE SUPport project in order to increase interest in the use of this ammunition, especially in light of the fact that the use of lead ammunition is already prohibited in wetland and swampy habitats, and that there is a liking in the European framework to completely stop using lead in hunting ammunition. The good response of hunters, followed by the great interest of Kvarner hunters in ecologically sustainable hunting inspires hope that the awareness of the harmfulness of using lead ammunition is spreading.

Marko Modrić, ravnatelj Javne ustanove za upravljanje zaštićenim prirodnim vrijednostima Primorsko-goranske županije „Priroda“

The LIFE SUPport project aims to improve the nesting and survival conditions of the last remaining population of the Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) in Croatia, which is located on the Kvarner islands. Griffon vultures are magnificent birds, the largest in Croatia, with a wingspan of 240 to 280 cm, a height of up to 110 cm and a weight of 7 to 12 kilograms. They are scavengers, which means that they exclusively feed on carcasses of large and medium-sized mammals. They represent an important link in the ecosystem, preventing the potential spread of infections. Birds of prey and scavengers get lead poisoning by swallowing pellets and bullets from carcasses or game remains. As much as 12% of the European population of Griffon vultures suffer from lead poisoning every year.

The leading partner of the LIFE SUPport project is Association Biom and the partners are the Public Institution for Protected Area Management of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County “Priroda”, the Agricultural Cooperative “Otok Krk”, HEP-Operator of the distribution system and the Vulture Conservation Foundation with the associated partner the Directorate for Nature Protection of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

Translated into English by Tihana Goričnik