Big Sur, California – Biologists at the Ventana Wildlife Society released condor No. 375 on Friday, May 1 from its condor sanctuary in Big Sur, California. This release marks the return of one of two condors that were gunshot and lead-poisoned this past March.
“We are extremely pleased to see condor No. 375 flying free in Big Sur once again because that’s where she belongs,” said Joe Burnett, Ventana Wildlife Society senior wildlife biologist.
Condor 375 was monitored over the weekend and she has been doing well since her release. The 4-year old juvenile female, was trapped by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists in Big Sur on March 26 for a routine blood-lead test. Biologists soon learned she had a very high lead value and was suffering from lead poisoning.
The ailing condor was transferred to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey to undergo a medical exam by veterinarian, Amy Wells, DVM. X-rays taken by Wells revealed three shotgun pellets embedded in her tissue, two in the wing and one in the thigh. This was an unexpected discovery which was unrelated to condor 375′s lead poisoning condition.
Condor 375 was given medicine to counteract the lead poisoning and then immediately transferred from Monterey to the Los Angeles Zoo for recovery. During her treatment it was determined that the gunshot wounds would not cause her any long-term physical impairment and her lead levels were brought down successfully after three weeks on a vigorous treatment schedule of once daily injections that removed lead from her bloodstream.
Condor No. 286, the other gunshot and lead-poisoned condor, is still recovering at the Los Angeles Zoo from his severe exposure to lead and his condition is still very much “critical.” Condor 286, an adult male, was captured in early March by biologists with Ventana Wildlife Society when it was determined that he was suffering from a severe case of lead-poisoning. He was transferred to undergo treatment at the Zoo’s animal hospital. When radio-graphed by veterinary staff they discovered 15 shotgun pellets lodged in his wing and body, also unrelated to the lead-poisoning condition.
“Luckily, the pellets didn’t cause any long-term physical impairment to condor 286, but his battle with lead poisoning is far from over,” said Burnett. “We are still unsure whether he will ever return to the wild and reunite with his mate (condor No. 303), as his survival is in the balance.”
As a result of these two condor shootings, a $40,000 reward was assembled thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States and Ventana Wildlife Society donors.
“We don’t yet know what leads, if any, have been generated from this reward so far but we certainly hope that the person or persons responsible are caught and punished accordingly,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.
The endangered California condor is the largest land bird in North America, weighing as much as 25 pounds and possessing a nine and half foot wingspan. California condors do not kill their food; they are obligate scavengers, eating carcasses they find during long soaring flights. Condor’s are nature’s recyclers and play a very important role in keeping the environment free of diseased animal carrion.
Condors are often poisoned when they ingest lead bullet fragments left behind in gunshot carcasses and gut piles in the field. In July 2008, California changed hunting regulations to require hunters in the condor’s range to use only non-lead ammunition. Information on the new regulations can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game’s Web site at: http://ent.groundspring.org/EmailNow/pub.php?module=URLTracker&cmd=track&j=275249513&u=2988305
Biologists have been working for decades to reestablish California condors to the wild. From a population low of just 22 condors in 1982, there are now 322 of these critically endangered birds. About half are flying free in the wilds of California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja Mexico. Although the population has grown, the species remains endangered primarily due to preventable threats. Direct shooting of condors is one such threat.
Ventana Wildlife Society is the only non-profit organization releasing and monitoring California condors in California. Ventana Wildlife Society began condor releases in Big Sur in 1997 and then initiated a second release site in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument in collaboration with the National Parks Service. Currently, Ventana Wildlife Society and the National Parks Service monitor a flock of 48 wild condors in Central California, more than half the population for California, which is currently 86 birds.
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