A ninth eagle with lead poisoning has been admitted to Merville’s MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre.
The mature female bald eagle was found on the ground in a Campbell River Park on Feb. 11, a MARS Facebook post said.
“When we found her, she was kind of laying down in the forest, not really standing,” said Kiersten Shyian, assistant manager of wildlife rehabilitation. “She was very wobbly and she was very laboured in her breathing.
A thorough exam and blood test confirmed that the bird’s symptoms were due to lead poisoning.
In 2019, MARS saw a total of nine eagles with lead poisoning. Since the start of the year, the rescue centre has taken care of nine eagles. At least two have come from the Campbell River area.
The wildlife rescue centre’s first patient of 2020 was a bald eagle with lead poisoning that was found off Highway 19A in Ocean Grove.
Shyian said he’s now free of lead, but remains in MARS’ care for other issues. He’s not out of the woods yet, but Shyian said those other health concerns aren’t necessarily due to the lead poisoning.
Bald eagle 57, the mature female found on Feb. 11, is getting better.
“She’s much more alert and she’s a lot feistier than when she came in,” said Shyian.
There are treatment options available for birds with lead poisoning, but it can be costly. MARS launched a fundraiser at the beginning of February to help offset those costs. It’s aiming to raise $3,000, which would cover lead treatment and blood tests for 24 eagles.
Even a single fragment of lead the size of a grain of rice can cause lethal damage to organs and the brain, said MARS.
“Symptoms of lead poisoning include lethargy, anorexia, paralysis, blindness, torticollis, ataxia, tremors, seizures, laboured breathing, and death,” said MARS. “The treatment is rigorous and expensive.”
One round of chelation drug and blood lead tests for treatment costs the centre about $125. It says most poisoned birds will need more than one round and require treatment for secondary infections and symptoms. They may also need extra heat support, fluid therapy and tube or hand feeding multiple times a day, the centre said.
The outcome for eagles admitted to the rescue centre with lead poisoning isn’t usually positive.
“So out of the nine that we’ve admitted this year, we’ve had five either die or have to be euthanized because the lead levels are so high,” said Shyian.
Two of the birds currently receiving treatment are “doing really well,” she said. “But even in the future, the lead has already taken a toll on their internal organs.
“We’re not necessarily curing them of lead poisoning, but we are prolonging the life that they’ll have.”
MARS continues to encourage hunters and anglers to find alternatives to lead for their outdoor pursuits.
“Even if we stop all lead use immediately, the lead that is currently hazardous in the environment will stay there indefinitely,” the rescue centre said in January. “This is a current problem, but will also continue to be one for many generations to come.”
Gyl Andersen, manager of wildlife rehabilitation, told the Mirror at the time that many people just aren’t aware of how lead ammunition affects animals in the environment.
“It’s still going to be present in the environment,” she said. “There’s some lakes that are quite contaminated with lead sinkers and grains of lead and there are animals walking around that probably have lead shot in them and a lot of animals probably have it in their guts as well.
Shyian said MARS is not against hunting or angling.
“There’s a lot of people out there that based on the things we say and the things we post, they kind of feel that we’re against hunting, which isn’t the case at all,” she said.
Instead, the wildlife centre is encouraging people to use environmentally-friendly alternatives.
The wildlife rescue has a lead poisoning display in the works for its visitor’s centre in Merville.
MARS is accepting donations for its lead poisoning treatment in person at the wildlife rescue centre, over the phone (778-428-2000) or on its website.