2nd California Condor shot, recovering from lead poisoning
Second California Condor Shot
Biologists on Central Coast Discover Three Pellets Lodged in Critically Endangered Bird
BIG SUR, Calif. - Three weeks after finding an adult male condor with 15 shotgun pellets lodged in its body, biologists at the Ventana Wildlife Society found three lead pellets in a juvenile female. The second bird, condor #375, was trapped by biologists on March 26 in Big Sur. The timing of the shooting is currently unknown.
After conducting a routine blood test, Ventana Wildlife Society biologists learned that the second bird is suffering from lead poisoning. An investigation is under way, and the public is asked to contact law enforcement agencies listed below with any information on these shootings.
X-rays of the ailing condor revealed three shotgun pellets embedded in its body - two in a wing and one in a thigh. Condor #375 was treated for lead poisoning and then immediately transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo for long-term treatment.
“We were alarmed when one condor was found shot, but now with two birds in such a short time, we are deeply concerned,” said Kelly Sorenson, director of Ventana Wildlife Society.
The wildlife agencies overseeing state and federal endangered species laws take any incident like this very seriously and will pursue justice for any criminal acts.
Defenders of Wildlife is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction of those responsible for the condor shootings.
“You can’t place a dollar sign on how valuable each condor living in the wild is for the survival of the species,” said Pamela Flick, the California program coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife. “But we hope that this contribution will help to catch those responsible for shooting this rare and vulnerable bird and show that harming endangered condors is illegal.”
Stiff state and federal penalties may be imposed for violations of the Endangered Species Act.
“Typically, hunters have a strong conservation ethic and do not randomly or intentionally harm protected species,” said California Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Branch Chief Eric Loft. “Any information about these shootings will help us prosecute for this egregious crime and will further protect this rare California species.”
Although both wounded condors are still alive, it remains unclear whether either would be able to return to the wild. The first bird found shot, condor #286, is still in critical condition with an incapacitated digestive tract due to lead poisoning. The condor remains alive only because veterinarians have been able to nourish him with a feeding tube.
While the prognosis for condor #375 is better, one shotgun pellet has impacted a bone in the left wing, and it is unclear whether there will be long-term impairment of her ability to fly. In both birds, the lead exposure is more likely from a different incident involving the ingestion of lead fragments.
Biologists have been working for decades to reestablish California condor populations in the wild. From a population low of just 22 condors in 1982, there are now 320 of these critically endangered birds in the world.
Approximately half of all California condors are flying free in the wilds of California, Arizona, Utah and Baja Mexico. California condors can live to be over 50 years old but do not begin breeding until they reach a minimum of six years.
Excessive mortality overwhelms the ability of long-lived, slow reproducers such as the condor. Even a low level of mortality is a serious threat to the population.
Due to lead’s toxic effect on condors, California changed hunting regulations in July 2008 to require hunters in the condor’s range to use only non-lead ammunition. Information on the new regulations can be found on DFG’s Web site.
Hunter Jake Theyerl of the Institute for Wildlife Studies has been working in Central California for the past year to get the word out about alternatives to lead ammunition. “Hunters in our region respect wildlife and work to be good stewards of the land,” Theyerl said. “There’s legitimate debate about what the best hunting practices are, but there’s no debate in the hunting community about shooting a condor. We just don’t do it.”
Pinnacles National Monument will be hosting a community forum in the coming month to discuss the California Condor Recovery effort. For more information, please call 831.389.4486 or go to the Web site.
Photo courtesy of Scott Frier/Nikon, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service