Open Access Open Badges Research article

Lead toxicosis of captive vultures: case description and responses to chelation therapy

Jiri Pikula1*, Pavlina Hajkova2, Hana Bandouchova1, Ivana Bednarova1, Vojtech Adam3, Miroslava Beklova1, Jiri Kral1, Karel Ondracek1, Jitka Osickova1, Miroslav Pohanka4, Jana Sedlackova1, Hana Skochova1, Jakub Sobotka4, Frantisek Treml5 and Rene Kizek3

  • * Corresponding author: Jiri Pikula

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Veterinary Ecology and Environmental Protection, Faculty of Veterinary Hygiene and Ecology, University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno, Brno, Czech Republic

2 Avian Veterinary Clinic Skrivany, Cesky Brod, Czech Republic

3 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mendel University, Brno, Czech Republic

4 Centre of Advanced Studies, Faculty of Military Health Sciences, University of Defence, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic

5 Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno, Brno, Czech Republic

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:11  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-11

Published: 16 January 2013



Lead, a serious threat for raptors, can hamper the success of their conservation. This study reports on experience with accidental lead intoxication and responses to chelation therapy in captive Cinereous (Aegypius monachus) and Egyptian (Neophron percnopterus) Vultures.


Soil contamination by lead-based paint sanded off the steel aviary resulted in poisoning of eight Cinereous and two Egyptian Vultures. A male Egyptian Vulture developed signs of apathy, polydipsia, polyuria, regurgitation, and stupor, and died on the next day. Liver, kidney and blood lead concentrations were 12.2, 8.16 and 2.66 μg/g, respectively. Laboratory analyses confirmed severe liver and kidney damage and anaemia. Blood Pb levels of Pb-exposed Cinereous Vultures were 1.571 ± 0.510 μg/g shortly after intoxication, decreased to 0.530 ± 0.165 μg/g without any therapy in a month and to 0.254 ± 0.097 μg/g one month after CaNa2EDTA administration. Eight months later, blood lead levels decreased to close to the background of the control group. Blood parameters of healthy Pb-non-exposed Cinereous Vultures were compared with those of the exposed group prior to and after chelation therapy. Iron levels in the lead-exposed pre-treatment birds significantly decreased after chelation. Haematocrit levels in Pb-exposed birds were significantly lower than those of the controls and improved one month after chelation. Creatine kinase was higher in pre-treatment birds than in the controls but normalised after therapy. Alkaline phosphatase increased after chelation. A marked increase in the level of lipid peroxidation measured as thiobarbituric acid reactive species was demonstrated in birds both prior to and after chelation. The ferric reducing antioxidant power was significantly lower in pre-treatment vultures and returned to normal following chelation therapy. Blood metallothionein levels in lead-exposed birds were higher than in controls. Reduced glutathione dropped after CaNa2EDTA therapy, while oxidised glutathione was significantly lower in both pre- and post-treatment birds. A chick in an egg produced by a Cinereous Vulture female two months after lead toxicosis died on day 40 of artificial incubation. Lead concentrations in foetal tissues were consistent with levels causing avian mortality.


The reported blood parameters and reproduction impairment in captive birds may have implications for professionals dealing with lead exposure in wild birds.

Aegypius monachus; Neophron percnopterus; Plumbism; Haematology; Biochemistry; Oxidative stress; Reproduction impairment; Treatment