Evaluation of mercury contamination in Iranian wild cats through hair analysis.
Due to its environmental persistence and bioaccumulative properties, mercury is considered highly toxic to humans, ecosystems, and wildlife. The present study aimed to investigate the total mercury (Hg) concentrations in hair samples of 40 wild cats belonging to eight different species collected from various provinces of Iran and to characterize their risk of Hg exposure. Total Hg levels in Iranian wild cats ranged from 62 to 3670 ng/g dw hair, with a median value of 488 ng/g dw hair. The lowest median Hg concentration was found in west Iran (251 ng/g dw hair), while the highest median level was measured in the north-east of the country (736 ng/g dw hair), likely related to its past use in agriculture and potential contamination of industrial effluents. The overall contamination of Iranian wild cats with mercury can be considered generally low, but 20% of the samples reached levels above 1100 ng/g dw hair, set as indicative of an environmental Hg concern according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our data are comparable with other investigations on wildlife worldwide, confirming the suitability of museum collection specimens to assess the environmental levels of Hg. We showed that, while diet and habitat can influence the mercury accumulation in wild cats, complementary factors, such as age, size, and interspecific metabolic differences, should be considered as well in future investigations.