Good news for ducks

By Kurt Kleiner Washington DC SIX years after American duck hunters were banned from using lead shot, many still refuse to switch to legal alternatives. Now newly approved alloys that fire like lead but are not toxic could convince more of them to obey the law. Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service approved a type of shot made of a tungsten-iron alloy. The manufacturer, Federal Cartridge of Anoka, Minnesota, won provisional approval after showing that shot that ended up in the riverbed would not harm wildlife. Since lead shot was banned in 1991, many hunters have complained that steel shot, the only legal alternative, often cripples waterbirds rather than killing them. They also claim that it damages their guns. A source in the ammunition industry estimates that about 20 per cent of hunters in the US still use lead despite the ban. Lead was outlawed because most shotgun pellets end up at the bottoms of lakes and rivers. They are then eaten by ducks and geese, which deliberately swallow small bits of stone and gravel to help grind up food in their gizzards. The government agency Environment Canada estimates that even now around 300 000 North American ducks and geese are poisoned each year by lead shot. Demand for nontoxic shot that behaves like lead has prompted a race to make the most acceptable alternative. A bismuth-tin alloy was approved earlier this year in the US. In Europe there are substitutes made of zinc, molybdenum mixed with plastic, and silver-coated lead. Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands have already banned lead shot. Britain is likely to replace its voluntary ban with an official one within the next few years. But European governments should follow the American example and insist that substitutes are proved to be nontoxic, says Vernon Thomas, a zoologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. For instance, he thinks that once inside a duck’s gizzard, silver-coated lead shot will lose its coating and prove just as toxic as naked lead. “The problem in Europe is if they say lead is not acceptable, they must say what is,
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