A Cornell-run wildlife care center rescued a bald eagle and a northern harrier in critical conditions due to exposure to man-made toxins in January. The harrier was recently released back into the world, while the eagle remains in rehabilitation and will be re-conditioned for flying.
The bald eagle, brought in by a Department of Environmental Conservation officer who found it on the side of a road in Onondaga County, suffered from both a wing fracture and dangerously high lead levels that can cause mental and physical disturbances in victims.
The center received the northern harrier after someone witnessed a red-tailed hawk attack it at Syracuse University. Doctors diagnosed that the harrier suffered from the effects of anticoagulant rodenticide toxicity, which prevented the harrier’s blood from clotting.
Both birds were transferred to New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitators once their conditions stabilized.
Prof. Sara Childs-Sanford, zoological medicine and section chief of the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, treated the two birds affected by lead and rodenticide poisoning.
“We see over 1,000 injured or ill wild animals annually and they are often in very debilitated condition,” Childs-Sanford said. “For each one, our initial thoughts are pretty much as possible.”
These two cases come a little under a year after the federal government retracted the Department of Interior’s order 219 — which banned lead ammunitions in federally owned lands and waters — to encourage hunting, fishing and other recreational activities in national parks.
Allowing such hunting practices will have negative environmental impacts, according to Childs-Sanford. Deaths of waterfowl from lead poisoning hovered around 2 million annually decades ago until dramatically declining after a ban on the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991, Childs-Sanford added.
“The scientific evidence is abundant, and lead is a proven toxin to both wildlife and humans that can have long-lasting detrimental effects,” Childs-Sanford said. “Lead has been removed from almost all other aspects of our lives, such as gasoline, paints, and other household items — yet we knowingly are depositing lead in the environment through sporting activities.”
Childs-Sanford also believes that this ban will pose positive effects on humans as well.
“Many people do not realize that lead ammunition fragments into tiny pieces on impact,” Childs-Sanford said. “And consumption of game killed with lead ammunition has been shown to result in increased blood levels in people.” Childs-Sanford also pointed out that alternative forms of hunting are available and could decrease these negative effects while maintaining hunting practices.
Non-lead ammunition — a heavily researched development — is “effective,” similar in cost, and “readily available,” Childs-Sanford said. “We can continue to support sport hunting and fishing while also working towards a safer and cleaner environment.”
Childs-Sanford stressed that although these two cases are success stories, the majority of similar cases do not have the same happy ending.
“Most animals exposed to these toxins likely die in the wild, or may make it to a hospital or rehabilitator and be too severely affected to survive,” Childs-Sanford said.
She believes that there are ways people can help to minimize the incidents of such cases of toxicity.
“People can help reduce the impact of these toxins on wildlife health, the environment, and human health by eliminating their use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle, finding alternatives to anticoagulant rodenticides for rodent control, and supporting legislation that restricts and reduces the usage of these toxic substances.”