November 4, 1996
Agreement to Protect Swainson's Hawks
A recent international agreement reached by industry,
government officials and environmentalists may save
Swainson's hawks from monocrotophos poisoning in Argentina,
according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a U.S.
environmental group that brokered the agreement. Tens of
thousands of Swainson's hawks have died in Argentina in
recent years after consuming monocrotophos, an
organophosphate insecticide that farmers apply to alfalfa
fields for grasshopper control. The raptors, which migrate
every year from western Canada and the U.S., are due to begin
arriving in Argentina in early November.
After calling for a global withdrawal of monocrotophos, ABC
convened a meeting in August 1996 with Canadian and U.S.
government toxicologists and other officials, representatives
of several environmental groups and Ciba-Geigy, one of the
largest purveyors of monocrotophos in Argentina. Participants
at the meeting stressed that Swainson's hawks are severely
threatened by monocrotophos in Argentina. Because so many of
the adults concentrate in a relatively small area (compared
to the region they inhabit in Canada and the U.S.), poisoning
incidents in Argentina could greatly impact worldwide
populations of the hawks. Over 700 hawks were found dead
under one roost.
According to ABC, monocrotophos is one of the most acutely
toxic pesticides to birds ever used and major bird kills have
been reported from its use for more than 25 years. U.S. EPA
classifies monocrotophos a Class I toxin, the most potent
toxicity category -- it is not registered for use in Canada
or the U.S.
Ciba-Geigy agreed at the meeting to remove monocrotophos from
the Argentinean market in areas where the Swainson's hawks
reside and buy back remaining stocks of monocrotophos. In
addition, Ciba will add warning labels to containers
indicating that the pesticide is prohibited for use on
grasshoppers or alfalfa fields and initiate television, radio
and poster announcements regarding the hazards of
monocrotophos. Ciba-Geigy manufactures one third of the
monocrotophos sold in Argentina.
Ciba also agreed to encourage other pesticide companies to
take similar steps toward protecting Swainson's hawks. Since
the meeting, three other companies that sell monocrotophos in
Argentina have agreed to take it off the market and buy back
existing stocks in the region where Swainson's hawks gather.
In addition, the Argentinean government announced it will ban
monocrotophos for use on alfalfa and grasshoppers.
Scientists in Canada and the U.S. have observed declining
Swainson's hawk populations for several years, but little was
known about their migratory habits until 1994, when U.S.
biologists documented that large flocks of the raptors
congregated in an agricultural region of Argentina 300 miles
west of Buenos Aires. Last winter, scientists from the U.S.
Forest Service counted a total of 4,000 dead Swainson's hawks
at four sites in Argentina, and estimated that 20,000 raptors
-- approximately 5% of the world's Swainson's hawk population
-- had died from poisoning that season. Forensic evidence
confirmed that monocrotophos was responsible. Scientists
believe some of the birds were killed by direct exposure and
others by eating contaminated grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are
the hawks' primary source of food in Argentina
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been funding training
and outreach efforts about the hawks in Argentina and a local
conservation group will send biologists to educate farmers
about the effects of monocrotophos and to suggest safer
alternatives. Among the alternatives being recommended are
carbaryl, pyrethroids and the organophosphate malathion. One
scientist involved in the meetings expressed concern about
the replacements, stating that Swainson's hawks "may be very
sensitive to organophosphates."
According to agriculture officials in Argentina, pesticide
use for grasshopper control will likely increase because
farmers are under intense economic pressure to intensify
agricultural production for the international market. U.S.
export records show that exports of hazardous pesticides to
Argentina increased from 1.3 million pounds in 1992 to 8.1
million pounds in 1994.
Sources: New York Times, October 15, 1996; "Agreement Reached
to Save Swainson's Hawks," American Bird Conservancy Press
Release, October 1996; Pierre Mineau, Canadian Wildlife
Service, personal communication, October 31, 1996; "Silent
Wings," Audubon, October 1996.
Contact: American Bird Conservancy, 1250 24th Street, NW,
Suite 220, Washington, DC 20037; phone (202) 467-8348; email
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