Condors Getting the Lead Out?

Endangered California condors in Arizona and Utah are showing a substantial decrease in toxic blood-lead levels—possibly the result of a drop in lead-based ammunition by hunters. Biologists with The Peregrine Fund, which helped test the birds, indicate that 16 percent of birds trapped and tested after September 2013 revealed blood-lead levels indicating extreme exposure, compared with 42 percent of birds tested the season before. Further, the number of birds that required treatment with lead-reducing chelation therapy was down from 28 the prior year to 11. Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund’s condor project, pointed to hunters’ increased use of non-lead ammunition and other lead-reduction efforts as potential reasons behind the lowered lead toxicity levels and fewer mortalities. Since 2002, California condors have been expanding their range. After they moved into southern Utah, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources started conducting outreach and providing incentives to reduce lead exposure in that portion of the condors’ range.