We see some shocking images in our team, but this week a photo came in that will stick with all of us for a long time.
This is a picture of the heart of a red kite, following a post-mortem examination. On the left, there’s a silver item lodged in the muscle: it’s a piece of shot. But incredibly, this isn’t the piece of shot that killed the bird.
Image: Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Last April, we blogged about a red kite that was found dead in Bedfordshire. The bird was x-rayed, and found to contain a staggering 10 pieces of shot. This was deemed the cause of death.
However, new developments have emerged following the post-mortem. These results are now back, and reveal that this unfortunate bird had also been shot at an earlier occasion. Three of the pellets were in fact historic. One of them was lodged in the bird’s interventricular septum, meaning that, effectively, this bird had been flying around, possibly for several weeks, with a bullet in its heart.
Even now, a year on, there's still no clue as to who was responsible for shooting this kite - on either occasions. It was found at Daintry Wood, Toddington: if you have information call police on 101 or our confidential raptor crime hotline: 0300 999 0101.
This isn’t the first time a bird of prey with a historic wound has come to our attention. At the start of 2017, one of our satellite-tagged hen harriers, Carroll, was found dead in a field near Alnwick, Northumberland. Her body was sent to Zoological Society of London (ZSL) for a post-mortem, and found to have been suffering from an infectious disease, which had caused her death. But with this came the discovery of two shotgun pellets in her leg and neck. There was no visible injury, indicating that the wounds had healed: remarkably, Carrol had survived being shot.
Later in 2017, a peregrine was picked up in Cumbria. It too it was found to have historic shot wounds. Clearly the bird had lived through the injury - but the fact remains that it had, at some point in its life, been illegally targeted.
Stories like these make you wonder not only at the toughness of birds and the pressures they face (never mind how anyone could intentionally shoot something so marvellous), but how many more birds are suffering from historic shotgun wounds. These examples only came to light once the birds had died, so it could be that the red kite you’re watching from your car, or the peregrine you’re lucky enough to spot on a cliff edge or cathedral, is living with some unwanted foreign object lodged within its small body.
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