A rare free-flying California Condor unexpectedly died this week at the Los Angeles Zoo following treatment for dangerously high levels of lead.
Condor #245 was trapped at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on 29 July 2007 and transported to the LA Zoo for treatment. The first blood test at the zoo indicated that the condor had a 546 ug/l blood lead level more than 10 times the amount to warrant treatment in condors.
To reach blood lead levels of this magnitude the condor must have ingested lead fragments directly. One of the most common sources of lead in condors is the ingestion of lead fragments from the tainted remains of big game shot with lead ammunition.
On 27th August 2007 in Sacramento, the California Fish and Game Commission will convene a special session to consider a ban on lead ammunition for big game hunting in condor habitat areas. The ban would be effective beginning January 2008 and would not threaten hunters’ ability to hunt as non-lead alternative ammunition is widely available.
“It’s clear that lead bullets are poisoning these extremely endangered birds,” said Dr Gary Langham, director of bird conservation, Audubon California. “The sooner the Fish and Game Commission acts, the sooner we can remove this toxic and deadly substance from the condors’ environment. The death of Condor #245 underscores the need for rapid action and the clear and present danger that environmental lead presents.”
Glenn Olson, Executive Director, Audubon California, said: “Lead poisoning is a tremendous threat to these remarkable birds. With only 300 condors in the world, to lose even one bird is a setback for this important conservation program and a severe threat to the entire species. Death by lead poisoning is particularly tragic because it is preventable.”
The California Condor population dwindled to 22 in the mid-1980s but thanks to an aggressive breeding and tracking program the population has grown to nearly 300, with 145 of these flying free. Another bird, Condor #242, is currently undergoing chelation treatment, at the Los Angeles Zoo but is expected to make a full recovery and be released into the Big Sur Wilderness soon.