California Condors face 'epidemic' lead poisoning, finds study
Ammunition left in animal corpses is the primary cause of lead poisoning among California Condors, whose numbers have remained low but stable thanks to conservation efforts.
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Analysis of the lead in the condors revealed that it comes mainly from lead-based ammunition, Finkelstein said. Because condors are scavengers, they easily ingest lead in animal corpses left by hunters. Some areas of California ban the use of lead ammunition to protect condors, but the birds range over hundreds of miles for food, meaning they can become contaminated outside of their protected zones. [10 Species Success Stories]Skip to next paragraph
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All of the work put into condor conservation, from lead treatment and nest cleanups to vaccinations, has put the wild population on a stable but not a growing trajectory, Finkelstein and her colleagues found. Without the addition of new, captive-reared birds, the free-flying condor population would take 1,800 years to reach the conservation goal of 150 non-captive condors in California.
If lead poisoning treatment alone was cut back, the population would decline between 2 percent and 12 percent a year, the researchers found. That would put the condor population back to 1982 levels in between 11 and 61 years, depending on the speed of the decline.
"People go out of their way and make extraordinary efforts to maintain the health of this population," Finkelstein said. "That is a concern for the future. Are we able to continue putting these resources in to mitigate all these effects from lead poisoning in these birds?"
Because condors only scavenge and don't hunt, they're at greater risk of lead poisoning than other birds, Finkelstein said. But the health of the California condor is a sign of the contaminants in the California landscape, she said. And humans are not immune.
"Lead does not discriminate between poisoning a condor and poisoning a kid," Finkelstein said.
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