In European wetlands, at least 40 bird species are exposed to the risk of lead poisoning caused by ingestion of spent lead gunshot. Adopting a methodology developed in North America, we estimated that about 700,000 individuals of 16 waterbird species die annually in the European Union (EU) (6.1% of the wintering population) and one million in whole Europe (7.0%) due to acute effects of lead poisoning. Furthermore, threefold more birds suffer sub-lethal effects. We assessed the economic loss due to this lead-induced mortality of these 16 species by calculating the costs of replacing lethally poisoned wild birds by releasing captive-bred ones. We assessed the cost of buying captive-bred waterbirds for release from market surveys and calculated how many captive-bred birds would have to be released to compensate for the loss, taking into account the high mortality rate of captive birds (72.7%) in the months following release into the wild. Following this approach, the annual cost of waterbird mortality induced by lead shot ingestion is estimated at 105 million euros per year in the EU countries and 142 million euros in the whole of Europe. An alternative method, based upon lost opportunities for hunting caused by deaths due to lead poisoning, gave similar results of 129 million euros per year in the EU countries and 185 million euros per year in the whole of Europe. For several reasons these figures should be regarded as conservative. Inclusion of deaths of species for which there were insufficient data and delayed deaths caused indirectly by lead poisoning and effects on reproduction would probably increase the estimated losses substantially. Nevertheless, our results suggest that the benefits of a restriction on the use of lead gunshot over wetlands could exceed the cost of adapting to non-lead ammunition.
Keywords: Compensative restocking; Cost evaluation; Hunting opportunity; Lead shot ingestion; Poisoned waterbirds.
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