A red-tailed hawk named Ruby captured the imagination of many Massachusetts residents who watched Ruby and her mate, Buzz, bear offspring and have daily adventures from their perch near Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Mass. When Ruby died suddenly in April from apparently ingesting rat poison, it was a local tragedy as well as a national warning about the serious dangers these chemicals pose to wildlife.
Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine received results of a toxicology screen last week that showed that Ruby tested positive for three different types of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs), substances the Environmental Protection Agency has recently moved to regulate more strictly. Veterinarians at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic performed Ruby's necropsy and detected signs of lethal rodenticide poisoning, which the screen results now confirm.
"Ruby had high concentrations of an SGAR called brodifacoum in her system and trace amounts of two other poisons," said Dr. Maureen Murray, a wildlife veterinarian and faculty member at Cummings School. "While these poisons are meant to kill rodents, they have unintended consequences of harming and killing animals that prey on rodents. Sadly, wildlife is often overlooked in the age-old battle of human versus rodent."
Susan Moses, a Cambridge resident who had watched Buzz and Ruby since 2010 and found Ruby lifeless on the ground beneath her nest, wanted to turn the loss into something positive. She recently asked the Tufts Wildlife Clinic to establish the Ruby Memorial Research Fund. The fund's initial goal is to raise $10,000 for research to monitor the health effects of rodenticides on birds of prey.
"We really hope people donate to this worthy cause and support the efforts of Cummings School," said Moses. "What better tribute to Ruby than to fund research that will affect policy change on both the local and national level, and that we hope will protect future generations of raptors from dying needlessly from rodenticide poisoning."
Murray has been studying rodenticide poisoning in birds of prey for years and published research in 2011 that has been frequently cited by the EPA. The paper showed anticoagulant rodenticide residues in 86 percent of 161 birds that were tested over five years at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic. The study examined four species of birds (red-tailed hawks, barred owls, eastern screech owls and great horned owls) and found that of those that tested positive, 99 percent had residues of the SGAR brodifacoum.
Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are more potent than their first-generation cousins. Rodents and other species need a much smaller amount of the poisons to suffer their effects. Another danger of SGARs is their ability to accumulate in liver tissue over time. While this factor doesn't necessarily make second-generation poisons more lethal for rodents than first generation products, it has devastating consequences for wildlife. For example, a red-tailed hawk that repeatedly feeds on prey containing sub-lethal amounts of the second-generation poison is at risk for accumulating a lethal amount over time.
In light of high numbers of children accidentally exposed to second-generation rat poisons as well as the risk to wildlife, the EPA tightened the safety standards for consumer use of household rat and mouse poisons in 2011. After a prolonged battle with the EPA, the last manufacturer to comply with the safety standards agreed in May to stop producing its second-generation poisons for sale to residential consumers by the end of the year.
"Until SGARs are phased out completely, consumers may still find a variety of poisons on store shelves. So it's very important to understand the larger ramifications of the products used in the home because of their potential harm to children, pets and wildlife. The goal of our research is to continue to educate the public on this issue and monitor any long-term changes in rodenticide exposure in birds of prey as a result of the new EPA regulations," said Murray.
To donate to the Ruby Memorial Research Fund please contact Ana Alvarado, Cummings School senior director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: https://tuftsgiving.org/giving-form.html?id=4&appeal_code=V0750. (Select "Other" from the Make Your Gift Option category and write: Ruby Memorial Research Fund).
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