There is a huge problem going on in the wildlife community, and it is affecting hundreds of bald eagles. The American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is indigenous to North America. They are members of the Accipitridae family which is the classification for species such as hawks and vultures. Scientists have separated these Eagles into two different subgroups: northern and southern. The northern eagle is larger than its southern counterpart, and it lives in the northern part of the continent. The southern eagle can be found in Texas, California, and Florida. Scientists estimate that around 70,000 bald eagles exist in North America.
Workers at the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center are noticing that an increasing number of bald eagles are coming into the center with paralysis. The paralysis is caused by lead poisoning and the eagles contract lead after eating animals that have been struck with lead bullets. Bald eagles are more susceptible to toxic elements in the environment because they are at the top of the food chain.
Lead poisoning also affects owls and raptors that scavenge the wild for food. Once lead enters the bloodstream, even the lowest levels can cause paralysis and other motor problems. Lynn Tomkins, a director at the Center, said, “Lead affects the nerves, so that’s your brain, your use of muscles, all parts of the body. The birds often cannot stand…They usually have difficulty breathing. They cannot even open their beaks.”
Removing lead poison from the blood is a very difficult task. It takes multiple treatments that can last up to six months until the bird fully recovers. Experts found that up to 80% of bald eagles and 30% of hawks suffer from lead poison. Despite the issues with lead, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has overturned a ban on lead ammunition on wildlife refuges.
Per Athan Manuel, the director of the Sierra Club, “Overturning the lead ammunition ban may win political points with a few special interests, but it could cost the lives of millions of birds and the health of families that rely on game to feed their families.”
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