Rare Condor Dies From Lead Poisoning

California Condor

Photo credit: molas

Oh Condor #245, we hardly knew ye: One of only 145 free-flying condors in the world died following treatment for dangerously high blood levels at the Los Angeles Zoo.

"The passing of Condor #245 is tragic," says Glenn Olson, executive director of Audubon California. "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."First trapped at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on July 29 and transported to the L.A. Zoo on July 31, Condor #245 was found to have a 546 ug/L blood lead level—56 times the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for emergency action in children and more than 10 times the amount to sound the alarm for treatment in condors.

Because blood levels from contact with lead paint or contaminated soil only reach as high as 20 ug/L, conservationists believe that the condor must have ingested lead fragments directly. The likely culprit: Big game shot with lead ammunition.

"It's clear that lead bullets are poisoning these extremely endangered birds," says Gary Langham, Ph.D, 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."

More than 45 prominent wildlife biologists recently signed a "Statement of Scientific Agreement" concluding that lead ammunition is poisoning the California Condor and threatening its survival in the wild; non-lead ammunition alternatives is also widely available.

The California Fish and Game Commission is expected to convene a special session in Sacramento on Aug. 27 to consider a ban on lead ammunition for big-game hunting in condor habitats. If passed, the ban would take effect starting from Jan. 2008.

Another bird, Condor #242 is currently undergoing chelation treatment for heavy-metal poisoning at the L.A. Zoo, but is expected to make a full recovery and be released into the Big Sur Wilderness sometime this week. ::ScienceDaily

Related Content on Treehugger.com