Short Documentary - Lead exposure threatens scavengers around the world. In Montana's Bitterroot Valley, Raptor Research Institute and MPG Ranch partnered to study lead exposure in golden eagles. Between 2011 and 2018, they caught 91 golden eagles and observed the highest prevalence of elevated blood lead levels ever recorded for the species.
She came to be named Skalkaho, a female golden eagle. In October 2019 she was hit by a vehicle near The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, MT. She was rescued by ranch staff and moved to Wild Skies where she became our first raptor to be fitted with a transmitter (#178132) and released. Unfortunately, that was not the end of her story.
Let's talk about lead. Why? Because, for the health of both raptors and people, we need to... Lead is an extremely toxic element, and most people know that lead poisoning is very bad. It was one of the first identified "environmentally caused diseases", even known to be toxic in ancient Greece and Rome (2000 BC).1 Human efforts to reduce leads use, and therefore exposure to it, dates back at least to the 1600s. In 1897 the impacts of lead poisoning on children was recognized and as a result many countries begin regulating how the element could be used. In March 2022, Duke University released a study showing that 170 million Americans alive today (half the population) has suffered damage to their intellects (IQ) from the use of leaded gasoline in vehicles (though it was banned in 1996). 1
When ingested by humans, lead damages the nervous system and interferes with the function of enzymes, causing neurological disorders ranging from behavioral problems to brain damage, and also affects overall health, cardiovascular, and renal systems - and can ultimately lead to death. Raptors suffer similar effects, when we rescue a raptor with lead poisoning it often can't stand due to difficulty balancing, has neurological symptoms such as paralysis in the feet, convulsions and tremors, and severe muscle weakness.1
Huge numbers (almost 50%) of eagles tested in 36 American states had toxic and chronic levels of lead in their systems. How does this happen? The main culprit is fragments of lead left behind from ammunition in carcasses and gut piles by hunters who are unaware of what they are leaving for wildlife to get exposed to.1 These hunters are also unwittingly taking lead home to their families, so the raptors and the humans who love Montana's wildlife and wild skies are all harmed. Fortunately, there is an answer: copper ammunition. 1 Switching to copper protects humans and raptors too!
At Wild Skies we know that hunting is a deeply held tradition for many Montanans and their families - so this is a health issue for everyone in our great state!
Finally: There is no recognized "safe" level of lead exposure. 1