Lead Continues to Be Serious Threat to California Condor Populations

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California condor in BajaThe California condor was one of the first species to be placed on the federal endangered list in 1966 when the population was reduced to a handful of birds. Through a massive, collaborative effort that included work in the field and breeding in zoos, the condor population has grown to more than 400 birds, more than half of which are now free flying in the wild. Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that lead poisoning from accidental ingestion of spent ammunition is the leading cause of death in the wild population, and this may prevent the establishment of self-sustaining populations.

“After reviewing nearly 20 years of our mortality data on the free-ranging birds, it became clear that lead poisoning is the primary problem for the birds in the wild. And this is not just a problem for California condors. We can view them as an indicator species, warning us about the hazards of widespread lead contamination in the environment,” said Bruce Rideout, D.V.M., Ph.D., Dipl. ACVP, director of the wildlife disease laboratories for San Diego Zoo Global.

San Diego Zoo Global collaborators at the Wildlife Health Center at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, recently published a review of the impact of lead in ammunition on scavenging birds and what it means for the health of our shared environment. The review article can be found in the January edition of the journal “EcoHealth.”