H-ATASCADERO

Jan 9, 2011 11:35 PM by Courtney Meznarich (DL)

Local wildlife experts remind people to be aware of lead after swan poisoning

Local wildlife experts are asking people to more mindful of what they leave behind at local lakes. Pacific Wildlife Care is currently treating a swan from Atascadero Lake for lead poisoning, which it says happens all too often. Employees say her painful journey back to health could have easily been prevented.

Thanks to some watchful neighbors and talented veterinarians, a swan is lucky to be alive. However her recovery process is far from over. Back in December people who live near Atascadero Lake said a local swan was not doing so well. She appeared weak and was unable to walk.

"Since swans are so susceptible to lead poisoning, that was one of the first things we suspected," said Jeanette Stone of Pacific Wildlife Care.

Stone immediately started treatment, injecting the swan with a chemical to remove lead from her body, but it was not working.

"The initial lead levels were off the chart, meaning, they were so high we weren't even sure she would survive," Stone said.

Stone ordered an x-ray and what veterinarians found is all too common. A lead sinker, left at the lake by a fisherman.

"Swans, like many birds, swallow little stones and pebbles to help with the digestion process, so the sinker was sitting in the stomach," said Polina Vishkautsan who works at the Atascadero Pet Hospital.

If they were going to save the bird the vets knew they had to take immediate action.

"We wanted to treat her for the lead poisoning but also get the lead out so she wouldn't continue to be poisoned," said Stone.

The vets at Atascadero Pet Hospital are used to working with birds but none with a neck so long as a swan. So they called national experts for help.

"They all said that it's extremely challenging, they said it's very, very hard," said Ofer Cherbinsky, who also works at Atascadero Pet Hospital.

With a 1.5 meter scope doctors located the sinker among the pebbles and pulled it out. The swan will be in captivity for two more months while she regains her strength. For now, she is one of the lucky ones, but Stone says it is another reminder to be careful what we leave behind.

"It's very important that we be mindful that we do have lead in our environment, and to do everything we can to prevent that," said Stone.

If you see an injured or sick animal, Pacific Wildlife Care says to call and report it to their hotline. There is a link available in the Newslinks section of ksby.com.

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