Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Organismal Biology and Ecology

Department or School/College

Division of Biological Sciences

Committee Chair

Kerry Foresman

Commitee Members

Dan Pletscher, Vanessa Ezenwa


ammunition, black bear, carnivore, cougars, grizzly bear, lead, scat, wolf, Yellowstone


University of Montana


Exposure to heavy metals is a potential challenge to the conservation of wildlife. One source of heavy metal exposure known to negatively affect avian wildlife is ingestion of lead rifle bullet fragments found in discarded hunter-harvested ungulate gut piles. Some large mammalian carnivores, such as grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), are also known to target these gut piles as a food source while others, such as cougars (Puma concolor), avoid areas with high levels of human hunting pressure. I investigated whether large carnivores in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were exposed to lead, and if so, if ammunition ingested from hunter-harvested gut piles was an apparent source of exposure. I tested samples of blood, tissue, and scat for the presence of lead in black bears (Ursus americanus), wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), grizzly bears and cougars. Grizzly bears show higher blood lead levels (n = 82, median=4.4 μg/dL, range 1.1-18.6 μg/dL) than black bears (n = 44, median=1.6, range 0.5-6.9 μg/dL), but blood lead levels did not increase during the autumn hunting season when potentially lead-tainted gut piles are available. Wolves (n = 21) and cougars (n = 8) had lead concentrations near or below the minimum level of detection in both blood and tissue samples. No lead fragments were detected in the scat of grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and coyotes in samples collected during the summer (n = 209) and fall (n = 214) in 2009. Therefore, unlike avian scavengers, mammalian scavengers do not appear to be ingesting lead ammunition fragments. Grizzly bears do, however, exhibit blood lead levels higher than what is considered safe in humans, but the source of this exposure remains unknown.



© Copyright 2010 Thomas Alan Rogers