Griffon Vultures Have High Concentrations of Lead in Their Bodies

First Posted: May 20, 2015 09:09 AM EDT

It turns out that Griffon vultures may be in trouble when it comes to their diet. Scientists have analyzed the presence of toxic elements in the blood of these vultures and have found that there's a high concentration of lead in wild populations.

The researchers examined 121 Griffon vultures in Portugal and Catalonia. More specifically, they compared the concentrations of toxins between populations of wild Griffon vultures and individuals that were admitted into rehabilitation centers. In all, the researchers tested for cadmium, mercury, and lead.

So what did they find? In 98.3 percent of birds, there was no cadmium at all percent. Additionally, 95 percent of birds showed no presence of mercury. Lead, though, was another matter. The scientists found that there were concentrations of 42.22 micrograms per deciliter in wild populations, which was significantly higher than the amount of metal in individuals in the rehabilitation center.

"This is due to the type of diet these animals have-strictly carrion from domestic and wild hunting species-because the consumption of hunting species increases the likelihood of ingesting lead," said Manuela Carneiro, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The concentrations in the wild populations were actually above the threshold at which lead can affect the antioxidant system in this species. In addition, the researchers found that the blood samples of the animals captured in Barcelona had higher levels of lead than those form Portugal.

Heavy metals can have various effects, depending on dosage. However, lead may directly cause the animal's death or vascular, blood, nervous and renal disorders. The findings reveal not only the importance of limiting lead pollution, but show that conservation efforts may need to focus on the Griffon vulture population.

The findings are published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

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