Swan rescue, death shows impact of lead in environment


MADISON, Wis. – After a swan died following a rescue on Lake Mendota, a wildlife rehabilitator is asking everyone to do their part in keeping birds and other animals safe.

On Sunday, a number of concerned callers let the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center know about a swan that appeared to be struggling on the ice near Picnic Point.

“People are wonderful and really care about animals in the area,” said Sarah Karls, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at the center. “It couldn’t move very well. That is something we see with lead toxicity.

Emergency responders, including firefighters and UW police, used an airboat to get the swan out safely and transport it to the Wildlife Center, where X-rays revealed a fishing tackle in the swan and tests showed lead levels off the charts.

“We also sent out the blood, got a value back of about 800 on the blood value for lead, and we treat anything over ten,” Karls said.

Karls suspects lead in the fishing tackle killed the swan.

“I think that the situation was really tough, but it is good that at least we got that swan into care, and when it did end up passing away, it was at least in peace, warm and quiet,” she said.

Getting the swan out of the lake may have helped other animals, including nearby eagles, too.

“If those eagles ended up having access to the swan, they potentially could have gotten lead toxicity that could’ve ended in those eagles dying.”

Karls said this situation is a reason to avoid using lead shots and fish tackle – something ice fisher John Fox does already.

“Instead of using a lead weight, I use a steel spoon,” Fox said. “It is something I’ve definitely thought about since I was a kid. You lose how many lures, and a lot of the lures are lead-based heads.”

That’s why Karls said it’s hard to tackle all the lead already in the environment.

“We’ll do the best we can for any animal that needs help. People should know this is an issue,” Karls said. “We want to reduce lead, but it will be in the environment for many years to come.”

She encourages anyone who sees a wild animal struggling to contact the Wildlife Center at 608-838-0413.