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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Heads in the sand: public health and ecological risks of lead-based bullets for wildlife shooting in Australia

Hampton, Jordan O.; Laidlaw, Mark; Buenz, Eric; Arnemo, Jon M.


Lead (Pb) is a toxic element banned from fuel, paint and many other products in most developed countries. Nonetheless, it is still widely used in ammunition, including rifle bullets, and Pb-based bullets are almost universally used in Australia. For decades, poisoning from Pb shot (shotguns) has been recognised as a cause of disease in waterfowl and Pb shot has been subsequently banned for waterfowl hunting in many jurisdictions. However, the risks posed by Pb-based bullets (rifles) have not been similarly recognised in Australia. Pb-based rifle bullets frequently fragment, contaminating the tissue of shot animals. Consuming this Pb-contaminated tissue risks harmful Pb exposure and, thus, the health of wildlife scavengers (carrion eaters) and humans and their companion animals who consume harvested meat (game eaters). In Europe, North America and elsewhere, the environmental and human health risks of Pb-based bullets are widely recognised, and non-toxic alternatives (e.g. copper-based bullets) are increasingly being used. However, Australia has no comparable research despite widespread use of shooting, common scavenging by potentially susceptible wildlife species, and people regularly consuming shot meat. We conclude that Australia has its collective 'head in the sand' on this pressing worldwide One Health issue. We present the need for urgent research into this field in Australia.


ecosystem health; human dimensions; pest control; pest management; population control; toxicology

Published in

Wildlife Research
2018, Volume: 45, number: 4, pages: 287-306

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Fish and Wildlife Management

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