Heavy metals in flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) from Italian wetlands: The problem of ingestion of lead shot

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Abstract

Waterbirds are exposed to many contaminants, including lead from ingestion of shot and fishing sinkers. Lead poisoning had never been reported in flamingos wintering in Italian wetlands. Our investigation stems from a case of four flamingos found dead in Tuscany in 2002 with numerous lead shot in their gizzards. We therefore considered other specimens found dead in different Italian wetlands. Many lead shot found in gizzards and lead tissue concentrations confirmed the hypothesis of lead poisoning in two of the seven specimens analysed: concentrations in liver, kidney, and bone were 361.3, 265.09, and 43.31μg/g d.w., respectively. Lead organotropism was typical of acute poisoning. Cadmium and mercury were also determined, and found to be in line with what little data are available on this species in the literature.

Although Italy recently endorsed the African–Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) prohibiting use of lead shot for hunting in wetlands, our results reveal a first case of lead shot poisoning in flamingos wintering in Italian wetlands. This evidence sounds a further warning of the problem of spent lead shot in countries where hunting in wetlands is not strictly regulated.

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