Dangerous, illegal lead pellets used by hunters in northern Greece have poisoned and killed dozens of flamingos who migrate to the area each year to breed.
The Action for Wildlife group, a Greek nonprofit dedicated to protecting the country’s wild animal populations, was alerted to the problem impacting the large, majestic pink birds when they encountered two flamingos with symptoms of poisoning in late January.
Flamingos poisoned in protected area of Greece
As they continued to find dozens of injured and dead birds in their stomachs — all with lead pellets used illegally by hunters — the group pinpointed the problem to the Agios Mamas lagoon in Chalkidiki.
Currently, the lagoon serves as the lone breeding site for flamingos in the entire country, making the recent poisonings a major threat to this sensitive population in Greece.
Additionally, the lagoon is a protected area, since it belongs to the Natura 2000 network, which includes protected areas across the European Union, including significant wildlife breeding and nesting sites.
Hunting with lead pellets banned since 2013
Autopsies of the dead birds proved that they were not shot by the pellets, but rather, they had swallowed them, leading to rapid illness and death from poisoning. The shot may have spread out over a wide swath, then landing and coming to rest where the flamingos came upon them and ingested them.
So far, the group has encountered a total of 26 dead flamingos, but they estimate that there are many more in the region.
Greek environmentalists and wildlife conservationists have long warned about the detrimental effects of the lead shot commonly used by hunters on sensitive birds in the region.
Although the use of lead pellets in Greece’s wetlands has been illegal since 2013, and even hunting itself has been banned for months under the country’s lockdown, the region is replete with the illegal shot, indicating that hunters are flagrantly defying the law.
The greater flamingo
There are six species of flamingo, only one of which can be found in Europe, the greater flamingo.
The most widespread and largest of all flamingo species, the greater flamingo is found across Africa, India, the Middle East, and in areas of Southern Europe, like Greece.
The majestic pink bird, famed throughout history for its marvelous coloring and elegant, craning neck, can reach of 187 cm (6.2 ft) at their tallest.
In the wild, greater flamingos can live to be 40 years old, but are particularly threatened by human activity, especially pollution, chemical run-off, and encroachment on their natural habitats.