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1 posts from July 2016

By Jen Mannas, Wildlife Naturalist

We all know that lead is a danger to people. There are laws and regulations to keep it out of our paint, water and food. However did you know that lead can also be a danger to wildlife?

Wildlife can be exposed to lead that is left behind in the environment by people. Things like fishing tackle, bullets and shotgun pellets, paint chips, discarded batteries, pesticides, mining waste, leaded gasoline spills, old pennies or other lead materials that are not disposed of properly are very harmful to wildlife, particularly birds. Waterfowl, raptors, and game birds are the most susceptible species to lead poisoning.

750 Bald Eagle 100992 in mew 071710 KM (3)

In 2010, this Bald Eagle with lead poisoning was treated at our wildlife hospital.

Lead poisoning is a chronic disease that causes weight loss and emaciation, weakness and lethargy, poor growth and development, blindness, seizures, fewer eggs laid, higher egg mortality, and even death.

On May 21, a Canada Goose found on the side of the road unable to fly was brought to PAWS Wildlife Center. It was determined that he had been shot in the right wing with an air rifle, resulting in a fracture. Radiographs also revealed that there was a lead pellet in his ventriculus (gizzard). Our veterinary team believe it is the same pellet that fractured his wing, and that he swallowed it while preening the pellet from his side.

750 Canada Goose

Our Canada Goose patient had lead poisoning.

After our veterinary team discovered the pellet in his ventriculus, they tested his blood lead level because although he was not showing typical symptoms of lead poisoning, he was not eating on his own. Sure enough, the results showed a lead level of more than 65 mcg/dL which is over six times the level considered safe for humans by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

750 canada goose swimming

Our Canada Goose patient swims in his pool.

In order for the goose to recover from the lead poisoning, he needed to have the lead pellet removed from his ventriculus and to go through several rounds of chelation. Chelation is a technique used to remove heavy metals from the blood and involves injecting a chelating agent into the bloodstream a few times a day over several days. Our goose patient was injected with the chelating agent twice a day for 19 days. Thanks to Dr. Polly Peterson and her team at VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle, an endoscopy was performed on June 2 and the pellet was successfully removed.

Can't see the video? Watch it here.

Once the pellet was removed, the goose’s blood lead level started to go down and we knew the process was working despite the fact that it was very stressful on the goose. After 51 days in care, he was released back into the wild.

Can't see the video? Watch it here.

Although there is legislation in place to help prevent lead from being left behind in our environment, there are things everyone can do to further help our wild neighbors stay healthy and lead-free:

  • Avoid using lead-based fishing tackle or ammunition and encourage others to do the same.
  • Support laws to restrict the use of lead-based ammunition for all types of hunting; it is already banned in waterfowl hunting.
  • Be sure to discard lead-based paint properly, including older items that might contain lead-based paint.
  • Take precautions to avoid spilling leaded gasoline and dispose of unused fuel safely and responsibly.
  • Consider switching to rechargeable batteries and dispose of used batteries safely.

Inspired by our work? Consider making a donation today to help us continue providing vital care to wild animals in need.

Found a wild animal in need? Find out how PAWS can help.

Interested in a career in wildlife rehabilitation? Check out internship/externship opportunities at PAWS.