Lead poisoning in waterbirds through ingestion of spent lead pellets often remains unnoticed. The issue is of common concern to many interest groups, including local, national and international decision-makers, conservationists, members of the hunting and sport fishing communities, and arms and ammunition manufacturers. However, in many countries lead poisoning is not recognised as a problem, and environmental dangers have yet to be acknowledged. Lead poisoning is a common mortality factor in many wetland areas, resulting from years of lead deposition through intense shooting with shotguns, and to a lesser extent from fishing with lead sinkers. Waterbirds, particularly Anatidae, are at great risk of poisoning, due to their habit of selectively picking up particulate matter from the sediment. Millions of waterbirds are estimated to die of lead poisoning each year.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s several international organisations and many national governments started to try to change this situation. In 1982, the International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) initiated a Cooperative Lead Poisoning Control Information Program (CLPCIP), in 1996 renamed Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP). The United States were the first nation to ban the use of lead shot for waterbird hunting, in 1991. In that same year, the IWRB (International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, now Wetlands International) convened an international workshop to assess the scale of lead poisoning in waterbirds, and to identify possible solutions to this problem. A series of recommendations emerged, and the full proceedings were published in 1992. These recommendations were used in formulating statements in a number of international Conventions and Agreements, one of which (AEWA, the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement) urges its member states to phase out the use of lead shot entirely. In 1995 and in 1997, Wetlands International produced International Update Reports on Lead Poisoning in Waterbirds. Their aim was to identify new developments in this field and to report on progress since the 1992 publication. The information was collected through questionnaires which were sent to national governments and to interested (inter)national organisations and agencies. The current Update Report continues this course by reviewing developments since 1997.
The 1995 and 1997 International Update Reports primarily focused on European countries, and to a lesser extent on other countries within the geographical coverage of the AEWA, and some others, e.g. Canada, the USA and Japan. For the present report, a much larger selection of countries was queried, particularly contracting countries to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, or Bonn Convention), also outside the AEWA region. However, the focus remained on the earlier selection as far as the section on relevant Conventions and Agreements is concerned; no research was done on relevant Conventions and Agreements in other areas of the world.
In this study a total of 137 countries and 11 organisations were queried, of which 74 and 9 responded, respectively. A 75th, the Bulgarian reaction, arrived just before the production of the report in August 2001, so it could not be included any more in the analysis. It has been incorporated in Appendix III.
Through detailed “yes/no questions” and short essay sections, the national contacts were asked to provide information on the current situation in their country concerning general situation, policy and legislation, awareness and education, research and development, co-ordination, and relevant references. Organisations and convention secretariats were asked to describe new developments in policies and legislation. The original questionnaire can be found in Appendix I.
In addition, the present report contains a section with background information on lead poisoning in waterbirds through ingestion of lead pellets, meant to enhance understanding and appreciation of all aspects of the issue, and to provide authorities, non-governmental organisations and hunters’ organisations with some ideas and tools helpful for minimising lead poisoning in waterbirds.
In short, this report aims to provide an answer to the following questions:
What is the nature and the scale of the lead poisoning problem, and which are the possible solutions?
What is the current situation, and which are the developments since the 1995 and 1997 reports, concerning international conventions and agreements addressing the lead poisoning issue?
What is the international hunting community’s view on the issue?
What is the current situation concerning legislation, awareness, research, and co-ordination in individual countries, and which are the developments since the previous two reports?
Which appear to be the main obstacles in the development of the aspects mentioned above?
Wetlands International sincerely hopes that this report will function in maintaining a clear focus on the issue among a wide international target audience, and above all will advance progress and wise decision-making in tackling lead poisoning in waterbirds. In addition, it is hoped that the list of contact persons will enhance communication and exchange of experience between different countries. Readers are encouraged to copy and distribute this report to other relevant and interested parties.