Lead poisoning is killing an unusually high number of California condors this year

According to conservationists, critically endangered California condors are dying in a very high number this year in Central California.

In the 1980s, California’s condor population was on the verge of extinction due to a variety of factors, including poisoning, shooting, power lines, egg collecting and habitat loss. By the 1990s, efforts began to revive the population of these majestic bald-headed birds throughout California, a movement that was largely successful.

Currently, there are 82 California wild condors on the central coast, and 321 globally. These numbers are significant, and mean that the project is “overall going really well,” said Joe Burnett, a former wildlife biologist at Wildlife Society Window, the LED charge restores California condors along the central coast.

But with the good news comes the bad. Already in 2021, Ventana has recorded 12 Condor deaths, which is “definitely concerning,” Burnett said.

“This is the highest number we have recorded this earlier in a year [in recent years], “Burnett added.

Seven of the birds died from lead poisoning, one died from a combination of injuries from the Dolan fire and lead poisoning, and four awaited results.

Lead poisoning has long been a problem for condors, who eat the carcasses of dead animals, including those shot with lead bullets. Bullets appear to be the major source of lead condom poisoning, as some hunters and ranchers still use them for varmint control, despite a statewide ban on lead ammunition.

Now Ventana has an outreach program for hunters and breeders, the majority of whom are very sympathetic to the cause. Some don’t even realize the bullets have contributed to condor decline.

Burnett said: “We need to work with the hunters and breeders on this one, they’re part of the solution.” “And a vast majority are on-board. A lot of them didn’t even realize [lead ammo] extended settlement of varmint. ”

“That’s our role,” he continued. “We offer the olive branch and free, non-lead ammunition.”

While it may seem counterintuitive for a conservation group to give out free ammunition, it’s all part of a larger project – protecting the critical California Condor from danger. Lead poisoning leads to a slow and painful death for condors.

“It’s really brutal and disturbing,” Burnett said, noting that lead causes neurological side effects, including the inability to digest food and water.

Condors are supposed to live 50 to 60 years, yet Ventana sees dead birds before they reach their first. Just last week, Burnett said they lost an 18-year-old nesting woman, who was regularly reproduced.

“It’s hard to put a value on that,” Burnett said. “Imagine having a dog or cat for 18 years that you’ve been following. We dress with these birds.”

But Burnett is hoping their ongoing outreach efforts will be successful and will continue to watch the flock flourish.

“It’s an exciting time for condors,” he said. “But it’s also a tough time.”

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