Stella McMillin, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Game, performs a necropsy on a great horned owl in Rancho Cordova. Rat poison has been found in the livers of animals in both urban and wilderness areas. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

By Tom Knudson, tknudson@sacbee.com
17 April 2011

Outside Palm Desert, a young bobcat dies mysteriously at a nature preserve. South of Nevada City, a farmer finds an owl dead near his decoy shed. In San Rafael, a red-shouldered hawk bleeds heavily from its mouth and nose before succumbing at an animal care center.

Each of those incidents shares a link to a widely used toxin that is turning up at dangerous levels in wildlife across California: rat poison.

Over the years, rat poison has spared state residents untold filth and disease. But a new generation of highly toxic, long-lasting poisons is killing not only rats, mice and ground squirrels, but whatever feeds on them, too.

As a result, toxins are rippling outward from warehouses to woodlands, from golf courses and housing complexes to marshes and nature sanctuaries. In California, the victims include bobcats, barn owls, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, kit foxes, kestrels and scores of other predators and scavengers.

"Rodenticides are the new DDT," said Maggie Sergio, director of advocacy at WildCare, a Bay Area wildlife rehabilitation center that has responded to dozens of poisoning cases. "It is an emergency, an environmental disaster. We are killing nature's own rodent control." …

"We've been collecting data forever," said Stella McMillin, an environmental scientist with the pesticide investigations unit of the California Department of Fish and Game. "They took 10 years after we knew it was a problem. It was absolutely too long."

Research by McMillin and others shows that exposure to rat poison is widespread, especially in and near urban areas where pests, people and poison mix. Around Bakersfield, 79 percent of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes tested have turned up positive for rodenticide. Near Los Angeles, 90 percent of bobcats sampled had rat poison in their blood. "Basically, when we look for it, we find it," McMillin said.

The same is true all over. Seventy percent of owls sampled in western Canada had rat poison in their livers. In New York, half of 265 birds of prey tested were positive for poison. In Great Britain, one of every two barn owls tested was contaminated.

"The truth is, it's not just across the state but across the country and across the world," said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service whose research has linked exposure to rat poison to a rare, often fatal form of mange in bobcats in Southern California. …

Potent new rat poisons killing California wildlife via Wit’s End

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