ThePeregrine Falcon is not only the fastest animal on the planet, but also one ofthe most diverse, occurring on every continent except Antarctica.However like many raptors and other apex predators, Peregrine Falcons are underconstant pressure to survive. Australiais the last stronghold of the species; most populations in other countries areendangered.
The biggest threat to this species is the continued use of pesticides inagriculture. Because they are at the top of the food chain, Peregrine Falconsare at greater risk, as persistent insecticides accumulate in soils and bodytissues and may be released later. These insecticides concentrate to thehighest levels at the top of the food chain.
The worst of these chemicals are the organochlorins and cyclodienes. This threatreached Peregrine Falcons in Australiain 1946 with the introduction of DDT (dichlor-diphenyl-trichlor-ethane) andcyclodienes (dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor). Animals break down the chemical DDTto DDD and DDE.
Extensiveresearch and case studies over many years have shown that the effects of theseinsecticides manifest in female peregrines producing thin-shelled eggs. Thishas three possible outcomes:
- In high enough concentrations, the embryo dies in the egg.
- The egg cracks under the weight of the incubating bird.
- Embryos reach full term, hatch early and the membrane dries out too rapidly, causingthe chick to dehydrate and/or get trapped.
DDEwas recorded as present in the eggs of Australia peregrines as early as1949, and was not present at all before 1945. DDT and dieldrin were banned in Australia in 1987 due to the threat to meatexports to the USA and Japan. Althoughno consideration was given to the conservation of the Peregrine Falcon inmaking this decision, it is nonetheless a positive step for the species. Oncethese chemicals were banned, several raptor and peregrine populations returnedand recovered; some even to pre-organochlorin levels.
Unfortunately, some third world countries still use these chemicals as cheap insecticides.They continue to be produced in western countries, where its use is banned, forsale to these third world nations who cannot afford healthier alternatives.
InAustralia, the decline of the Peregrine Falcon was not detected for a number of years, asit was masked by the longevity of the species and its inclination to occupyparticular nest sites for long periods of time. The half-life of DDE in soil isbetween 12 and 57 years, so wildlife will continue to be exposed to thisdangerous chemical for many years to come. In addition to this grave threat,Peregrine Falcons in Australiaare vulnerable to land clearing, harassment by rock climbers, shooting andtrapping by pigeon lovers and diseases being spread by feral bird species thatthe peregrine eats as prey items.
AustraliaZoo aims to promote the plight of this species and educate people to avoid thehistoric collapse of populations outside of Australia.
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