Poisoning due to exposure to organophosphate and carbamate pesticides is a common threat for many wildlife species, especially for scavengers such as vultures. The Griffon vulture population (Gyps fulvus), for instance, is deteriorating in the Eastern Mediterranean, and is considered to be critically endangered in Israel, where 48 out of 107 (45 %) known injury/mortality cases in 2010–2021 were caused by poisoning. Lack of specific clinical indications, together with levels of organophosphate or carbamate pesticides too low to detect, challenge the ability to diagnose and treat such poisoning events. The activity of cholinesterase (ChE) in plasma has the potential to serve as an effective biomarker for monitoring exposure to anticholinesterase pesticides in live vultures. Yet, the applicability of this approach has been limited by intra- and inter-species variations in ChE basal levels. The present study aims to provide a benchmark for ChE activity levels in healthy Griffons and their intra-species variation. Blood samples from free-roaming (n = 231) and captive (n = 63) Griffons were collected during routine monitoring, and ChE levels were determined using a colorimetric method. We established that the ChE in the plasma of Griffons reflects mostly acetylcholinesterase as the dominant form. ChE levels in healthy Griffons are 0.601 ± 0.011 U/ml (mean ± SE), while Griffons with suspected or confirmed pesticide poisoning display much lower levels of ChE activity (typically <0.3 U/ml). We also characterized the age dependence of ChE activity, as well as differences among groups from different locations or origins. Our study provides a rapid diagnostic tool for the detection of exposure to organophosphate and carbamate pesticides that should facilitate the lifesaving treatment and the conservation of this species. Moreover, our protocols can be adapted to other species and geographical areas, addressing pesticide poisoning worldwide and contributing to the protection of endangered species and their ecological functions (e.g. sanitation by scavengers).
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- Griffon vulture
- Raptor biomonitoring
- Wildlife toxicology