Archive for March, 2009

Endangered California Condor Fighting for its Life

Posted at 5:06 pm March 13, 2009 by admin

Lead Poisoned and Gunshot:
Central Coast Condor Emblematic of Current Impediments to Recovery

March 13, 2009
Although they are one of the most endangered birds on the planet, California condors are still facing avoidable threats to their survival.  As a case in point, as one California condor began emergency treatment for lead poisoning, it was discovered the bird also had shotgun pellets embedded in his body from a gunshot wound.  Currently, the bird is fighting for his life at the Los Angeles Zoo.

During the week of January 21, condor No. 286 (all California condors are assigned a studbook number), a nearly 7-year-old male, went from being high in the pecking order of the central California coast condor flock to getting pushed around by much younger, less dominant birds.  When 286 went from making courtship displays to female condors to getting beat up by adolescent birds, wildlife biologists from Pinnacles National Monument and Ventana Wildlife Society knew something wasn’t right. A sudden shift in behavior by 286 was an indication the bird may have health problems.

“We had been trying to capture him since late January because of signs of weakness and poor health,” said Joe Burnett Ventana Wildlife Society biologist. Upon capture on March 4, biologists noted the condor was wobbly on his feet.  Testing revealed a high lead level in his blood, indicating potentially fatal lead exposure.  Condor biologists immediately transferred the bird to the Los Angeles Zoo for lead poisoning treatment.

To see photos of this condor visit

While at the Zoo, 286 was radiographed and the shotgun pellets were discovered.  Once lead treatment has been completed, Zoo veterinarians plan to extract the pellets to determine the type of ammunition.

“We are extremely grateful the bird is still alive, but dismayed this innocent condor was both lead poisoned and gunshot,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.

“Whoever shot the condor should not be seen as a representative of the hunting community.  No self-respecting hunter would do this,” said Jerry Marquez, a central California hunter.  “The average hunter is conservation minded and wants to preserve the resource for future generations, not destroy it.  Shooting the condor was an act of pure stupidity.”

The act of harming an endangered species is also a federal felony. Condor 286’s injuries and resulting removal from the wild were a significant setback in achieving the goal of establishing breeding pairs of condors in the wild.  Reproduction of wild offspring is a necessary step toward removing condors from the Endangered Species List.

“We were anticipating a breeding attempt by condor 286 this year, so this unfortunate event is a real setback to the flock,” said Sorenson.

While unrelated to the shotgun pellets, condor 286’s lead exposure may have occurred from ingestion of lead bullet fragments found in animal carcasses or gut piles.  Condors are scavengers, only eating dead animals.  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 website at:

Condor biologists see ranching and big game hunting as critical to the survival of the endangered birds.

“Open space with an occasional dead large mammal is the kind of landscape condors live in,” said Daniel George, condor program manager at Pinnacles National Monument.  “Ranchers and hunters that use non-lead ammunition play a key role in maintaining a healthy landscape for condors and other wildlife.”

“The plight of condor 286 illustrates the California condor’s continued struggle for survival,” said Jesse Grantham, California Condor Recovery Program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “We need to continue to focus on sources of lead in the environment and eliminate that threat to both humans and wildlife.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead federal partner in the multi-agency California Condor Recovery Program.  Release programs are located in Central and Southern California, Baja California, Mexico, and Arizona.  Currently, California is home to two separate California condor flocks.  The central coast flock, located around Big Sur and Pinnacles National Monument, and the Southern California flock, located in and around the Los Padres National Forest, north of Los Angeles and east of Ventura.

Ventana Wildlife Society: In California alone there are 130 species of animals in the wild threatened or endangered with extinction. Ventana Wildlife Society is committed to conserving native wildlife and their habitats. Ventana Wildlife Society released 70 Bald Eagles to central California in the 1980’s and 90’s and began reintroducing California Condors in 1997. Rather than dwelling on past mistakes that brought many of our wild animals to the brink, we focus on the present. We recover individual species and track the populations of many others so that conservation can be timely as well as effective. Focusing on youth education, we better ensure that future generations have the willingness and capacity to help wildlife. Our vision is to have a society who cares for and supports wildlife across the planet, particularly in California. Online at
Kelly Sorenson,
Ventana Wildlife Society, 831-455-9514

Proceedings from conference available online

Posted at 3:19 pm March 12, 2009 by admin

Now available online: “Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans”

BOISE, Idaho — Research on the effects and risks of lead exposure from spent bullet fragments and shot is now available online.

The documents are proceedings from the conference, “Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans,” convened May 12-15, 2008, by The Peregrine Fund, Boise State University, Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine, and the US Geological Survey. The conference for the first time brought together professionals in wildlife and human health to share information on the toxic effects of this source of lead contamination.

Conference attendees offered a relatively easy solution: switch to non-lead bullets and shot.  Such ammunition is available in most popular calibers and is considered by many hunters to be as good as or better than traditional lead ammunition.  Experts said manufacturers will respond to demand, thus solving the problem.

Individual papers may be downloaded at:

An overwhelming weight of evidence presented at the conference shows that:

·        Lead is toxic. It sickens and can kill at high levels of exposure, but even near the lowest detectable levels, lead has measurable health effects, including reduced IQ in children and increased risk of death from heart attack and stroke in adults.

·        Lead from spent ammunition gets into people who eat game harvested with lead bullets or shot, with clinical effects among subsistence hunters.  Effects among recreational hunters have not been adequately studied.

·        Lead from spent ammunition gets into a wide variety of wildlife, including doves, swans, eagles, condors, and mammalian scavengers, regularly sickening and killing some.

·        Non-lead bullets and shot are available as an alternative to lead for most uses.

The roughly 400 pages of the proceedings consist of more than 60 contributions from scientists and professionals in the fields of wildlife, health, and shooting sports. The conference documented evidence from around the world of:

·        Effects of lead poisoning on wildlife that consume lead bullet fragments or lead shot when they forage.

·        Lead exposure in people who eat game harvested with lead-based bullets or shot.

·        Effects of lead on human health at minute levels that were formerly thought benign and currently are not recognized by many health agencies.

·        Lead bullet fragmentation in game meat, extent of contamination of game meat from bullet fragments, and the potential for human exposure to lead from this source.

·        Solutions to the problem of lead exposure from bullet fragments in both wildlife and people, with practical examples from Arizona and California where voluntary and legislative measures have been implemented on behalf of the California condor, and from Germany and Japan on behalf of sea-eagles and human health concerns.

·        Exposure to lead from other sources including fishing tackle, paints, and ceramics having significant negative health effects on wildlife and people.

The Peregrine Fund, a conservation group for birds of prey, convened the conference after a decade of research on wild California condors in the Grand Canyon region of Arizona revealed that lead exposure from spent ammunition is the most important factor impeding the full recovery of the species in the area.  The research also suggested that lead from spent ammunition could be a concern to people who eat game harvested with lead bullets or shot shells.

Efforts by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to encourage hunters to voluntarily reduce lead exposure of condors influenced 90 percent of hunters in the 2008 hunting season to use solid copper bullets as an alternative to lead-based ammunition or remove all remains of their harvest from the landscape.  As a result, no condors died from lead poisoning this season.

“If this result can be achieved throughout the condor’s range, our data shows that condors could survive in the wild without the intensive and expensive management needed now to combat lead poisoning,” said Dr. Grainger Hunt, a scientist for The Peregrine Fund and contributor to the conference proceedings.

Three Oregon Zoo Condors to be Released into Wild

Posted at 3:12 pm March 12, 2009 by admin

Meriwether, Nootka and Atya ready to fly free in Arizona

condorraw0309post.jpgPORTLAND, Ore. — Three California condors from the Oregon Zoo will be released into the Vermilion Cliffs Monument in northern Arizona March 7, soaring into the open skies that will finally be their home.

Meriwether (No. 379), Nootka (No. 447) and Atya (No. 455) were hatched and raised at the Zoo before being transferred to the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, to prepare for their release. Meriwether was transferred in January 2007, Nootka and Atya in October 2008.

This trio will be the second group of Oregon Zoo condors released in the 293,000-acre Arizona monument. They will join Tatoosh (No. 367), Ursa (No. 404) and Wiley (No. 420), who were successfully released in March 2008.

“With every successful condor release we’re another step closer to seeing condors fly over the skies of Oregon,” said Tony Vecchio, Zoo director. “One day Oregonians may again see what Lewis and Clark saw as they traveled along the Columbia River over 200 years ago.”

This will be the 14th release of condors in Arizona since the Peregrine Fund began its recovery program in 1996. Currently, 67 condors are flying free in Arizona, including two wild-hatched chicks that left their nests in the Grand Canyon in December.

“These monumental strides give us great hope for the survival of this species,” Vecchio said.

Condors, the largest land birds in North America, have wingspans of up to 10 feet and weigh 18 to 30 pounds. They are highly intelligent and inquisitive, often engaging in play. Their range extended across much of North America during the Pleistocene era, which ended about 10,000 years ago. By 1940, that range had been reduced to the coastal mountains of Southern California, and in 1967 condors were added to the first federal list of endangered species. In 1987, the 17 condors remaining in the wild were brought into captivity and a captive-breeding program was developed. The world’s total population of endangered condors flying free in the wild is 169 in Arizona, California and Mexico.

The Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open space. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.

The center is currently home to 31 condors and has produced 15 eggs since it was established. Of the 15 eggs produced, 14 chicks have survived.

In 2001, the Oregon Zoo became the third zoo in the nation to join the California Condor Recovery Program. California condor captive-breeding programs are also operated at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. The Oregon Zoo was the recipient of the Wildlife Society’s Conservation Award for creating the nation’s fourth California condor breeding facility in April 2005.

The Oregon zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the Zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Washington’s pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid’s lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.

The Zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Zoo visitors are encouraged to ride MAX or take TriMet bus No. 63. Visitors who take the bus or MAX receive $1 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit for fare and route information.

General admission is $9.75 (12-64), seniors $8.25 (65+), children $6.75 (3-11), and infants 2 and under are free; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $2 per car is also required. Additional information is available at or by calling 503-226-1561.

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Oregon Zoo ” 4001 SW Canyon Rd. ” Portland, Oregon 97221 ” 503-226-1561 ”

Contacts: Bill LaMarche 503-220-2448 or 503-497-5812 (pager)
Linda D’Ae-Smith 503-220-5716 or 503-441-7573 (pager)

Condors En Route to Santa Barbara Zoo

Posted at 4:04 pm March 6, 2009 by admin

Yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, March 4), Santa Barbara Zoo Assistant Zoo Director Alan Varsik and Director of Conservation Estelle Sandhaus arrived in a snowstorm in Boise, Idaho and met up with Zoo CEO Rich Block and Zoo Veterinarian Karl Hill, DVM, who had flown up from Santa Barbara that morning. They  were visiting The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey to pick up the four juvenile condors who are coming to Santa Barbara.

“It was emotionally moving to go to the World Center and see all the condors,” said Block yesterday when he was checking into the hotel in Boise. I could hear in his voice that it was.

“We saw 18 breeding pairs and a ton of young birds — nearly 60 condors total — and we’re bringing four home. This is the result of discussions with the California Condor Recovery Program team that started 10 years ago. We’ve built relationships and created a remarkable program and now condors are coming to Santa Barbara. We are making a difference.”

Today, “at first light,” according to Sandhaus, they picked up the birds. Block adds, “It took about 90 minutes to get the birds loaded this morning. The Peregrine Fund staff definitely got a workout catching and crating the condors! Alan got some terrific video of this.”

The birds are being transported in large crates, two in the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Conservation Land Rover and two in a rented van.

They are driving nonstop, straight through, stopping only for gas, food, and comfort, for at least 15 hours to return to Santa Barbara. It may take longer. Sandhaus told me that they were driving with the windows open to keep air flow to the birds, “to keep them cool.” Everyone was quite cool as it was snowing in Boise.

Here’s a report from noon, sent by Block on his Blackberry: “We just crossed into Nevada. The roads are clear, though it’s cold and windy. We’re under partly cloudy skies with billowing clouds casting irregular shadows on the surrounding snow covered slopes. It’s quite beautiful… The condors appear to be good travelers, so far. We’re keeping the vehicles cool so the heated seats are definitely an advantage in the Land Rover.”

Alan called me later to say, “We expect to arrive in the middle of the night in Santa Barbara. We’ll offload the crates into the new condor holding area and then transfer the birds in the morning. All four birds will initially share one holding area but eventually we will give them access to the adjacent holding area during their quarantine.”

The four birds coming to Santa Barbara are: No. 432 (male), 433 (female), 439 (male) and 440 (female). They were all born in Boise within a two week period, from April 12 through 24, 2007. All were reared by their parents except 433, who was raised by foster condor parents.

Three of the birds (432, 433, 439) are descended from AC3 (10 in the studbook) — the female bird that is hanging in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.  AC3 was never captured, but died in the wild of lead poisoning in 1984. AC3 is their great-grand dam – a nice connection. I don’t know how many thousands of kids have looked up, awestruck, at that bird over the years. I know mine have. Now, Santa Barbara kids and visitors are going to get to see live condors “up close and personal.”

All four birds are related to AC8 (12 in the studbook), the last free flying female condor captured in the wild; she is also a great-grand dam.

All of the staff at the Zoo was talking about the condors today, anticipating their arrival. The other big news today: a brand new baby titi monkey produced by our two relatively new titis. It was seen as a good omen.

We’ll report more after the condors get settled in. I’m considering getting up at 2 a.m. to meet the travelers when they arrive at the Zoo. We’ll see if that still seems like a good idea at 1:30 a.m. when the alarm rings.

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