California condors will never be able to grow self-sustaining populations as long as hunters are permitted to use lead ammunitionaccording to a studypublished Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A California condor spreads its wings at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation.

The investigation, led by environmental toxicologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers the latest evidence showing condors are continually exposed to harmful levels of lead when they feed on animals killed with lead ammo or on lead-laced gut piles left behind by hunters.

A news release quotes lead author Myra Finkelstein: “We will never have a self-sustaining wild condor population if we don’t solve this problem.”

Condors, including many set free after being born and bred at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, are captured twice a year and their blood is tested for lead poisoning. “They still die from lead poisoning on a regular basis,” Finkelstein said.

As of May 31, the condor population stood at 416, with 236 flying free in California, Arizona and northern Mexico, and 180 living in a handful of breeding operations, such as Oregon’s.

Since 1997, about half of all the free-flying birds in California have required chelation therapy to remove lead from their blood.

Jesse Grantham, who recently retired as head of the condor recovery program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates the condor program costs about $5 million a year, including contributions from the myriad agencies and organizations involved in the recovery effort.

Without the current high level of management, the species will decline again toward extinction, according to the study; in 1982, before captive breeding, only 22 California condors were known to remain worldwide.

According to the study’s authors, the findings suggest that greater regulation of lead-based ammunition may be necessary to protect condors. Hunting organizations and gun-rights groups have opposed such regulations, though alternatives to lead ammunition are available.

– Katy Muldoon  News Link: