One of only 145 free-flying condors in the world unexpectedly died following treatment for dangerously high blood lead levels recently at the Los Angeles Zoo.
“The passing of Condor #245 is tragic,” said Glenn Olson, Executive Director, 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.”
Condor #245 was first trapped at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on July 29 and transported to the LA Zoo on July 31. The first blood test at the zoo indicated that the condor had 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 trigger treatment in condors. To reach blood lead levels of this magnitude the condor must ingest lead fragments directly as background blood lead levels from environmental contact such as contact with lead paint or contaminated soil only reach as high as 20 ug/L.
”Death by lead poisoning is particularly tragic because it is preventable,” added Olson. “We strongly urge the California Fish and Game Commission to act quickly at their upcoming meeting to ban the use of lead ammunition in condor territory.”
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. Recently more than 45 prominent wildlife biologists signed a “Statement of Scientific Agreement” concluding that lead ammunition is poisoning the California Condor and threatening its survival in the wild.
“It’s clear that lead bullets are poisoning these extremely endangered birds,” said 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.”
On August 27th 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.
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. However, elevated levels of lead in the condors’ bloodstream threaten their long-term survival. Elevated blood lead levels contribute to lead poisoning, which can result in a painful death, sometimes taking several days. Not taking action to remove lead from the condors’ environment means that wildlife managers must continually trap birds, test blood levels and, if at dangerous levels, transport them to a facility to undergo an expensive and painful chelation to detoxify their blood.
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 some time the week of August 20.
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