It’s Time to Get the Lead Out for Wildlife

Guest Blog Post from Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity

California condor perching in a flight cage.
A California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) in rehab for lead poisoning at Liberty Wildlife Center in AZ. Contacts for picture and Photo Credit Randie Segal

Have you ever held an eagle or loon that’s been poisoned by lead? It’s heart-breaking to see these majestic birds wracked by toxins that sicken and often kill.

Veterinarians and wildlife rehab centers have been on the front lines for years coping with countless wildlife lead poisoning cases around the country. It’s a needless epidemic: millions of birds are poisoned every year by eating spent lead shot, fragments of lead hunting ammunition or fishing tackle left in the wild. (Lead also endangers the health of people who eat game meat that contains flecks of lead.)

At some point, the use of toxic lead in sporting products has to end.

Fortunately, there’s a solution within reach. There are now plenty of nontoxic, lead-free types of ammunition and fishing tackle on the market that are accessible, affordable and effective. Hunters can still hunt, anglers can still fish and the unintended killing of eagles, loons, California condors, trumpeter swans and other wildlife can stop.

But, in order to make the change on a large scale, we need the same sort of federal effort that got lead out of gasoline, paint and plumbing. Wildlife rehabilitators will play an important role in making that happen.

As leading experts on wildlife in their communities – and the people most likely to deal directly with animals poisoned by lead – rehabilitators can be a powerful voice in pushing for lead-free ammunition and tackle. This doesn’t require becoming a political activist, simply talking publicly about what you’ve experienced first-hand: eagles you’ve nursed back to health, loons you’ve seen succumb to poisoning, or deaths and injuries of animals that could have been prevented.

Providing good information about how lead poisoning is affecting local wildlife is a vital part of bringing about changes in national policies. Each small step – whether it’s a scientific report or a letter to the editor – moves us in the right direction.

Spent lead ammunition in terrestrial habitats continues to poison some 130 species of birds and non-target animals each year. Wildlife hospitals across the country see a dramatic rise in lead-poisoned eagles and other raptors during hunting season each fall. Nearly 500 scientific papers have been published documenting the dangers to wildlife from this lead exposure. It’s clear that change is needed.

Here’s where things stand: a 38-state coalition representing conservationists, birders, hunters, zoologists, scientists, American Indians, wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians petitioned the EPA earlier this year for a public process under the Toxic Substances Control Act to consider regulations for nontoxic hunting ammunition. The EPA has twice refused to evaluate the risks to wildlife and human health from toxic lead in hunting ammunition. Conservation groups this month filed suit against the EPA.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law designed to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals such as lead, gives the EPA broad authority to regulate chemical substances that present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. The EPA could end the unintended lead poisoning of wildlife by regulating the toxic lead bullets and shot in ammunition.

The EPA dodging the lead issue has a lot to do with posturing and lobbying by the National Rifle Association and other politically powerful gun groups, which make the misleading argument that regulating lead is a backdoor method to ban guns. The NRA is pushing the “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act,” aimed at removing the EPA’s authority to regulate toxic lead in ammunition and fishing equipment.

We knew this would be a slow, difficult fight. That’s why we need help from wildlife rehabilitators and others who regularly deal with the tragic effects of lead poisoning. You can help by informing the public what you know about the impacts of lead on wildlife, bringing the problem up in talks you give, talking to local news reporters and even writing an op-ed for your newspaper.

There’s something else that’s needed: better tracking of wildlife injured or killed by lead poisoning. Currently there’s no cohesive way to track the scope of lead poisonings state-by-state or at the national level. Scientifically sound updated data will be an important tool in showing the depth of this problem.

I’ll hope you’ll join the effort to finally get the lead out of the wild.

Get more information about the Get the Lead Out campaign.

Bye Bye Buzzard

By Karen Tannenbaum

Karen is a California rehabilitator who usually volunteers at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in the US but is spending the summer as a volunteer at an Israeli wildlife rehabilitation and education center, Hai Bar Yotvata.  Since IWRC currently has no Israeli members (hopefully we will soon) I thought the membership would be interested in the current state of rehabilitation in the country.  Regardless of where we are, we always regard our animals and practices as normal, be that kangaroos and possums, raccoons and redtails, or pandas and cincerous vultures.  By sharing each others "normal" we learn things that benefit us all.


Today, a Common buzzard was approved for release.  Visitors at the educational exhibits were invited to view the release, and I found it endearing to witness the crowd’s excitement as the graceful raptor raced through the air. I tried my best to snap a picture, but my humble little camera coupled with the astounding speed of the buzzard made for a barely discernible photograph. My bad.

Before the raptor release (highlight of my day) we took a Jeep onto the reserve to visit the watering holes for a routine scrubbing.  Some extra curious ostriches surrounded us and Abby and I were swiftly instructed to get back into the car.  Ostrich bites are apparently not too pleasant. Thankfully, I have yet to find that out for myself.


Release of the buzzard



Unfortunately, a juvenile Scimitar oryx passed away this week. The on-site vet came to the reserve to perform an autopsy, which I was able to observe. Dr. Reuven (Richard) Eden, DVM, MPVM is a UC Davis graduate who made Aliyah and has been working in town for 22 years. Dr. Eden had determined that the oryx died from an infected small intestine.  After the autopsy, I accompanied Arik, Eitan, and Yaniv to Eilat to drop off a sample of the intestine to a lab for further research. Even though the circumstances were upsetting, I was ecstatic to witness the autopsy and have the chance to ask questions on animal biology and surgical process. It was a priceless opportunity.

On a brighter note, I discovered a new baby in the bat cave! Very exciting. Mama bat is gloriously protective and kept a close eye on me when I came in to clean the enclosure this morning.


I got to feed the Nightjars today, and they are officially in the running for my new favorite animal at the Hai Bar (my favorites change biweekly…I can’t help it!).  For the first time, I cheerfully held a bug (the Nightjars’ snack of choice) for the opportunity to feed the birds. Worth it!

Erik took us on a little trip through the reserve to look for nesting ostriches. After about 20 minutes of driving through the terrain, we found a beautiful female lying on a nest filled with eggs. One ostrich caught notice of the truck and ran after us for at least half a mile! I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. I never thought I’d be involved in a race with an ostrich, but there’s a first time for everything, right?

An American in Israel


By Karen Tannenbaum

Karen is a California rehabilitator who usually volunteers at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in the US but is spending the summer as a volunteer at an Israeli wildlife rehabilitation and education center, Hai Bar Yotvata.  Since IWRC currently has no Israeli members (hopefully we will soon) I thought the membership would be interested in the current state of rehabilitation in the country.  Regardless of where we are, we always regard our animals and practices as normal, be that kangaroos and possums, raccoons and redtails, or pandas and cincerous vultures.  By sharing each others "normal" we learn things that benefit us all.

Arrival Day 2/22

After a four-hour bus ride from Jerusalem, Abby (another American volunteer) and I were dropped off at an extremely desolate bus stop near Kibbutz Grofit-our home for the next few months. We called the Hai Bar Yotvata staff coordinator (Zohar) who had arranged to retrieve us from the bus stop upon our arrival. About 15 minutes later, we were startled by a fast approaching green truck veiled in sand. Out jumped three Hai Bar staff members who loaded our suitcases into the back of the truck and welcomed us to town. We were overwhelmed, but so thrilled.  Zohar explained work conditions and our shift times and we were left to explore our apartment and the kibbutz. The other staff members, Eitan (21), Ido (21) and Yaniv (18) invited the two of us to a BBQ outside their apartment. We all spent time getting to know each other (while eating a DELICIOUS dinner) then went to sleep early in order to prepare for our first day volunteering.


Today was our first day on the reserve.  I met the director of the reserve and the rest of the exceedingly hard working staff members. I was sent to work with Eitan who told me a little bit about Hai Bar and put me to work cleaning and feeding the Egyptian Fruit bats, porcupines, Terrestrial tortoises, and Fat Sand rats. Besides rehabilitation, Hai Bar is an educational center working towards furthering people’s knowledge of native Israeli wildlife. I was amazed by the variety of species they house at the reserve, including cheetahs, leopards, wolves, jackals, ostriches, and hyrax, just to name a few. After a few hours of work, I was told that I would be taking care of the Egyptian Fruit bats for the duration of my time there.  Exciting!! The animals currently being rehabilitated include an assortment of reptiles and raptors, and Hai Bar is home to an incredible Oryx habitat that is part of a larger Oryx rehabilitation project.



Today was really exciting. I got to do a ride along with some staff members to tag a newborn Oryx. Erik, one of the lead staff members, explained the ear tagging patterns that they use to keep record of the Oryx population in the reserve. Tick marks on different locations along the edge of the ear represent different numbers. We drove into the reserve to search for the baby, and once we had found it and brought it to the truck to get tagged I was staggered by how small she was! Her anxious parents surrounded the car and Erik worked as quickly as possible to get the baby back out to her mother.  Afterwards, we corralled a group of Addax from an enclosure out onto the reserve. All in all, today was a day filled with unforgettable first-time experiences.


Today was my day off, but I was too excited to just hang out on the Kibbutz. I went to work at 5:30 AM and took to my post as the Egyptian Fruit bat caretaker. I relished the responsibility. After the bats’ first feeding I shadowed Eitan as he took me around the carnivore enclosure to clean and check on the animals. When we were done I was instructed to observe/practice carnivore food prep...which meant I had to help dismember the dead feeder calf. I had never done anything like that until today. At least these animals get incredibly fresh food, right? :)

Bringing Science and Collaboration into Wildlife Health Management

National Wildlife Health Center Strategic Science Plan

By Kristin Madden, IWRC instructor and Chair of The Wildlife Society’s Wildlife Disease Working Group subcommittee to review the NWHC Plan


In February 2012, a subcommittee of The Wildlife Society’s Wildlife Disease Working Group was formed to review and comment on the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center's (NWHC) “Science Strategy: Advancing Wildlife and Ecosystem Health for the Next Decade.” The NWHC Strategic Science Plan is a broad document with three major goals: developing local, regional and international partnerships; creating information support systems; and identifying wildlife health threats. Each of these is a vital goal is we are to effectively address pressing wildlife health issues as they arise. The North American Wildlife Health Strategy will emphasize a collaborative approach to mitigate the impact of wildlife disease on wildlife populations, domestic animals, and human health, as well as economic and social effects.


Our subcommittee was comprised of individuals from academia, state and federal agencies, and NGO conservation organizations. We felt that the plan was clear and concise, offering a broad framework that will help guide NWHC work activities over the course of the next few years.  The subcommittee offered four pages of commentary to The Wildlife Society. Among a wide variety of comments, we recommended linking this document to other disease related planning documents, including the North American Rabies Management Plan that was signed in 2008 by representatives from U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Navajo Nation. We also noted that partnerships address the potential negative impact of translocation of wildlife. Translocation is commonly used for a variety of reasons and has tremendous potential to impact the spread of wildlife disease.  We found the plans for ways to disseminate vital information to be particularly important for both professionals and the public. We also suggested increasing visibility by investing more in publications like the Field Guide to Wildlife Diseases.


Overall, this is an ambitious project that has great potential for education, collaboration, and efficient mitigation, even if only a portion of the specific objectives are accomplished. I look forward to the new research that will be sparked by this and the information and training that I hope wildlife rehabilitators will have access to.

Up For Discussion – Nonnative Species


Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is non-native in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Photo Credit L Reed

Up For Discussion

The upcoming issue of JWR will feature a Letter to the Editor questioning the ethics of treating and releasing non-native, invasive species. In this particular case, the species in question is Virginia opossums in California (introduced in 1910, according to Jameson & Peeters (California Mammals, University of California Press, 1988)). But rehabilitators across the U.S. are familiar with the dilemma of caring for European starlings and English (house) sparrows. And this concern is not limited to North America. In Australia the problem may be European rabbits, red foxes, and cane toads. Africa’s invasive species include the crab-eating macaque, grey squirrels, and Canada geese; the grey squirrel has also been introduced to central Europe, along with California quail and the bullfrog.  Add to the list beaver in South America, raccoons and nutria in Asia.

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) Photo Credit Bob Elko

Some rehabilitators believe that when an invasive species arrives for treatment the most humane and ethical protocol for all parties is to euthanize the animal. They may point out that rehabilitators have enough trouble garnering respect from the more established wildlife professions without engaging in activities that undermine efforts to support native wildlife populations. Others argue even an exotic species offers an opportunity to educate the public—about empathy AND environmental issues. Then there is the very practical concern over possible bad PR for a rehabilitation organization that depends on donations to operate getting “caught” euthanizing some of its patients simply because they are not deemed “worthy” of care.

Obviously, this is an enormous issue that needs to be faced and discussed by the wildlife rehabilitation community.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

What is the most important issue for rehabilitators to address—the health of the individual, the health of the population, or the health of the ecosystem?

Do you (if home-based) or your organization (if affiliated with a rehab center) have an established protocol for dealing with non-native wildlife species?

If so, what is it, and how did you come to this decision?

If not, why not?

Submit your responses to Kieran Lindsay, JWR Editor at

Attending the 11th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference

By Susan Wylie, IWRC Board Member

Last month I attended the 11th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. This conference was attended by a variety of professionals including government agencies, wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, biologists, researchers and oil response companies.

With oil spills occurring more frequently around the globe, I attended this symposium to acquire a better understanding of what is required to respond to oil spills and to determine what I could do to help with a response effort . Sadly, oil spills happen every day and it is likely that as a rehabilitator, I will participate in this type of response at some point.

The conference not only addressed topics such as the steps and protocols needed to respond to oil spills, but many presenters spoke of the current research that is being done to see the physical effects oil is having on wildlife and the surrounding environment. Presentations were also given on how to organize and manage volunteers during a crisis, and the planning and decision making needed to deploying an emergency response centre.

It caught my attention that responders are focusing their efforts more and more on animal welfare and the psychological effects response efforts have on animals. Responders are learning that these factors play a large role in the survival rate of oiled wildlife. Speakers emphasized the importance housing, enrichment and diet play in reducing the animal’s stress and increasing its chance of surviving in the wild. Examples and descriptions were given so that the participants could apply the knowledge to their own centres in emergency and non-emergency situations.

Networking and attending these types of events is crucial to preparing for the unprepared.The conference allowed both experienced and inexperienced individuals to share ideas and to discuss methods of response to small and large-scale oil spills and other emergency situations.  Oil spill responders from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States, Canada and as far as Singapore networked together with the ultimate goal of saving wildlife in distress as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Mega-Agriculture and Wildlife Health

At the 2011 IWRC Symposium the Keynote Speaker was Dr Greg Harrison.  He gave a fabulous talk about mega-agriculture and its far reaching effects, yes, even into wildlife rehabilitation. We are pleased to provide a full copy of his speech here! I highly recommend listening to the full hour below, but you can also access a short 5 minute introduction at the Harrison's Pet Food YouTube Page.



Home by the Holidays

Update January 10 2012: The puffin has been released in the Grand Banks region near other puffins.

A rehab center just outside of Montreal has been in the news recently, due to an unusual visitor, an immature Atlantic puffin a long way from home.

Sue Wylie, IWRC board member, instructor, and executive director of Le Nichoir, and her volunteers set up a habitat for the juvenille puffin in a bath tub.
The set up included a mesh pull out. A good place for the bird to get out of the water while protecting his feet. Photo: Lindsay D'Aoust
The puffin was fed a diet of smelt, a fish species that wouldn't cause problems with the bird's waterproofing. Photo: Lindsay D'Aoust
After a week of phone calls, Sue had set up a flight to Newfoundland for the puffin via AirCanada. Photo: Lindsay D'Aoust
Early December 22nd the bird was on a commercial flight, with a Newfoundland rehabilitator waiting on the other side. Photo: Lindsay D'Aoust


Kakapo Ambassador

Many rehabilitators deal with species that are not endangered, or at least still have a number of living members.  But regardless of whether we rehab red squirrels or hyacinth macaws, we feel the specter of population loss.  While not truly a rehab case, the below article is an interesting account of one member of one species with only 129 members.  It highlights the important role we rehabilitators play in the protection and healing of threatened and endangered species. - Kai

By Barbara Heidenreich

Austin, Nov 30, 2011 - Sirocco is one of 129 Kakapo left in the world. This large, flightless, nocturnal species of parrot is famous for unusual behavior. During breeding season the males plant themselves in small depressions in the ground called “bowls”. They puff up with air and emit a resonant boom for up to eight hours a night. The boom attracts a female who is eagerly pounced upon by the hormonally charged male Kakapo. Sirocco, having been hand raised due to an illness, prefers to mate with human heads instead of female Kakapo.

Sirocco became famous when he directed his affections to the cranium of zoologist Mark Carwardine in the BBC series Last Chance to See. The viral video clip has been viewed more than 3.5 million times on YouTube . Professional animal trainer Barbara Heidenreich was one of those viewers and reached out to the Kakapo Recovery Program to see if she could help.

Barbara commented on the situation. “I was amused by the clip like everyone else. However I came to learn that his sexual behavior had become a bit of a problem. Sirocco was at times quite relentless in his attempts to climb to people’s heads. There was concern he might get hurt by someone who was not charmed by his advances.”

Barbara traveled 7400 miles from the United States to New Zealand to work with Sirocco’s caregivers to develop a training plan based in positive reinforcement.  The main goal was to teach Sirocco to redirect his sexual behavior towards something else. “We experimented with a stuffed owl. But will likely end up using one of his known favorite objects, a Crocs™ shoe.” says Barbara.

Barbara and Sirocco

Sirocco has responded extremely well to training. He has already learned to present a number of behaviors that make it easier to care for him, including touching his beak to the end of a plastic chopstick. The chopstick allows caregivers to direct him where to go without handling. He is learning other behaviors as well. Many are based on Kakapo natural behavior. As ambassador for the Kakapo Recovery Program, Sirocco makes appearances to help educate people about his kind. By sharing his natural talents the team hopes to raise funding and awareness for this extremely endangered New Zealand parrot. Learn more at


About Good Bird Inc:

Good Bird Inc provides behavior and training products for the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos and parrot training workshops. Discover kind and gentle ways to train parrots to be well behaved, interactive and fun. Visit for more information.

The Gulls Runneth Over

By Susan Wylie

In early June, Le Nichoir, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Hudson,
Quebec received 240 nestling and fledgling ring-billed gulls and 1 herring
gull chick after the birds fell off the roofs of some industrial buildings
in Montreal. Unfortunately this is becoming a common issue in the area with
gulls nesting in inappropriate areas such as on flat roofed, industrial
buildings. These initially offer the adults an apparently great nesting site
with few predators to harass their chicks. Unfortunately, there are other
problems that can result in high levels of chick mortality.  After many
attempts at encouraging building owners to return the gulls on the roof and
not intervene, the birds were brought to Le Nichoir for care.

A strategic plan was instantly put into place, volunteers were recruited,
new caging was purchased, large amount of fish were bought (primary source
of diet) and a large aviary was built to ensure that the birds had the
appropriate housing and the best of care.

Overall, of the 240 intakes, 225 healthy and viable ring-billed gulls and 1 herring
gull were released after 6 weeks of care. Le Nichoir worked closely with the
scientific community including biologists from the University of Quebec in Montreal to
have all the birds banded with both metal and identification bands and given
a physical examination. All this was overseen by the Environment Canada
enforcement division, biologists and permit officers to ensure that the
appropriate protocols were taken. Since then there have been multiple
sightings of the gulls, who have seem to have adapted well, including one
recently seen in Florida!