Lead ammunition residues in a hunted Australian grassland bird, the stubble quail (Coturnix pectoralis): Implications for human and wildlife health.
Scavenging and predatory wildlife can ingest lead (Pb) from lead-based ammunition and become poisoned when feeding on shot game animals. Humans can similarly be exposed to ammunition-derived lead when consuming wild-shot game animals. Studies have assessed the degree of lead contamination in the carcasses of game animals but this scrutiny has not so far extended to Australia. Stubble quail (Coturnix pectoralis) are one of the only native non-waterfowl bird species that can be legally hunted in Australia, where it is commonly hunted with lead shot. The aim of this study was to characterize lead contamination in quail harvested with lead-based ammunition. The frequency, dimensions, and number of lead fragments embedded in carcasses were assessed through use of radiography (X-ray). From these data, the average quantity of lead available to scavenging wildlife was estimated along with potential risks to human consumers. We radiographed 37 stubble quail harvested by hunters using 12-gauge (2.75") shotguns to fire shells containing 28 g (1 oz) of #9 (2 mm or 0.08" diameter) lead shot in western Victoria, Australia, in Autumn 2021. Radiographs revealed that 81% of carcasses contained embedded pellets and/or fragments with an average of 1.62 embedded pellets detected per bird. By excising and weighing a sample of 30 shotgun pellets (all had a mass of 0.75 grain or 48.6 mg), we calculated an average lead load of 78 mg/100 g of body mass. This was a conservative estimate, because fragments were not considered. This level of lead contamination was comparable to hunted bird species examined using similar methods in Europe. The quantity and characteristics of lead ammunition residues found suggest that predatory and scavenging wildlife and some groups of human consumers will be at risk of negative health impacts.
Funder: McKenzie Fellowship program
Funder: Game Management Authority