View Full Version : Please Read: The Truth About Condors and Lead

09-14-2007, 2:35 PM
Condors and Lead Poisoning

Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, Hopper Mountain NWRC (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/allaboutcondors.html)
I did a little research on my own concerning Condors and Lead Poisoning and thought you all might find this a bit interesting.

As some may or may not be aware, the wild Condor population dropped as low as 1 in 1987, at which point he was captured and entered into the Captive Breeding Program (CBP) that had started in 1982. At the time, there were 26 birds in the CBP and this brought the captive population to 27. Wild Condors ceased to exist.

Over the next 6 years, the captive population grew to 52, and in 1992, 2 birds were released into the wild. This began the re-introduction program that continues to this day. Condors have been released successfully into three separate ranges: Southern California/Big Sur, Baja California and the Grand Canyon.

Many Condors are caught and released numerous times during their lives. Some are given the taste of freedom for a year or two to only return to the CBP because they are unsuccessful in finding and bonding with a mate in the wild, among other things. One Condor was permanently returned to captivity because he exhibited ‘behavioral problems’.

Though the population grows at a steady rate, most of the success is due to the ongoing CBP. The reproductive success of wild Condors is spotty at best with only a handful of chicks successfully fledged. Fledgling success rates are higher in Arizona and Mexico however.

Many of the Arizona releases have extended their range seasonally into Utah. Interestingly the steering committee formed to address the threat of lead poisoning said this about the Arizona, Utah and Mexican condor populations:

We acknowledge that the condor population in Arizona and Utah is designated as experimental/nonessential under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, and recognize that this results in differences in condor management within 10(j) and non-10(j) areas. We will adhere to all commitments made in the 10(j) Federal-rule and associated agreements. May 20 2003 Committee Report (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/Lead%20Subcommittee%20Report-final.htm)
Despite the apparent ‘nonessential’ classification for the convenience of the committee, a lot of reference to the lead levels and incidents of lead exposure in the Arizona population were scattered through the report. Here is one such reference:

While many people have doubted or chosen to look past this problem, the death of one condor during the fall of 2002 and the potentially injurious poisoning of 12 birds in Arizona, known to have foraged on the Kaibab Plateau, and one in southern California clearly demanded that a great deal more emphasis and attention were needed throughout condor range to reduce the exposure of condors to lead, specifically from spent ammunition.

09-14-2007, 2:35 PM

The following mortality information is directly from the USFWS website (prepared by me in Excel). It relates only to wild condors and their mortality rates and causes of death. I cannot find mortality statistics beyond 2003. It’s interesting to note the wildly varying claims of lead toxicity and morbidity/mortality found on the internet from various sources. The USFWS web site seems to be the only reliable and objective source of data that I can find so far concerning mortality and morbidity.

The population data in the graph below is reliable and pulled from several sources including the USFWS, CDFG, Audubon and among others.
Note steady increase in overall population, having crested 300 birds this year. The folks who are taking care of these birds are to be commended for their results (only).

Data Source (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/Pophistory.html)


09-14-2007, 2:36 PM

Upon further reading of the report by the committee, one of the recommendations was a stepped up and vigorous monitoring program for lead toxicity levels in wild Condors. Sifting through USFWS Condor site I found that those recommendations translated into a bi-annual capture and monitoring procedure.

I draw your attention to this because I find little data, analysis or conclusions that might have resulted from this program. Interestingly, the statistical data all but disappears on the USFWS website after 2003.

Instead they have posted ‘Field Notes’ for the years 2002 through 2006. 2005 is missing.

Sifting through the 2006 (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/fieldnotes2006.htm) ‘Field Notes’ there is no mention whatsoever concerning captures or lead toxicity. No mention is made about blood testing or monitoring the population. You can be assured if they had found lead in any of the birds given the pending legislation, it would have made front page news on their website. Like all good propagandists, they would never miss an opportunity to exploit the most minute traces of lead in any of their birds.

‘Field Notes’ for 2005 are missing from the web site. Once again, due to the fact that had they found lead it would be front page news...I am concluding that no lead was found in any of the birds.

Sifting through the 2004 (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/fieldnotes2004.html) ‘Field Notes’, no mention of mortality or morbidity is noted for any cause: Unknown, Power Lines, Missing, Lead etc. More importantly, of the two trappings that did occur, it appears as if ALL Condors tested negative/trace for lead toxicity.

Sifting through the 2003 (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/fieldnotes2003.html) ‘Field Notes’, there were two trappings and lead level monitoring procedures carried out. The first trapping was negative for lead, and second trapping found 2 birds out of 31 to have ‘elevated’ lead levels. The two birds were taken for treatment. Both birds responded to treatment and were doing well when one of them unexpectedly was found dead in his cage. Undoubtedly this is the one listed fatality in the data above for 2003.

Note that this bird was living fine in the wild until it was caught and ‘treated’. No conclusive autopsy report or toxicology data has been provided for cause of death. This bird was also treated for West Nile Virus, and a reaction to that vaccine might have been a contributing factor in its death.

Of the two birds treated, the one that survived was released 1 week later. The treatment of lead poisoning takes on several flavors. In mild to moderate cases, elevating the Iron, Zinc and Calcium levels in the blood stream is the normal protocol.

In severe cases, Chelation Therapy is the order. In this case chelating agents are introduced into the blood, where they bind with the free lead and are passed out through the urine. Chelating treatment can be lengthy and constant monitoring and testing over 2-3 weeks is normal.

Based on the brevity of treatment, and the fact the other bird was released within a week, I find it extremely doubtful that the bird died due to lead poisoning, at least not directly.

Sifting through the 2002 ‘Field Notes’ (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/fieldnotes2002.html), I find that Condor ‘AC8’ was treated for acute lead poisoning by the Los Angeles Zoo and recovered. Condors with designations such as ‘AC’ are the original remaining wild birds in captivity or released to the wild.

AC8 was caught along with 20 other birds in a trapping on November 12. Of the 20 caught, besides AC8, only one other bird tested positive for lead. That bird was kept locally in a pen and within a few days her lead levels dropped and she was released.

On November 20, 4 more birds were captured. All tested negative for lead toxicity.

Though the 2002 tabular data shows one more mortality due to lead, the field reports do not support or mention that fact.

I find it extremely disturbing that complete and thorough data sets are not readily available. As per the committees directive, a state sanctioned and paid for body, the Condor is supposed to be monitored and the results ostensibly have given rise to this legislation.

What is very interesting to note about 2002-2006, is that since the committee set forth the stepped up monitoring program, it would appear that one of their main goals was met; reduced lead toxicity through public education and voluntary cooperation. Found in the report was the public education campaign recommended and directed at shooting sports enthusiasts. In 2002 and 2003 they detected 2 birds with lead. Once the information campaign began in 2003, there is no mention or record of lead toxicity of Condors on the USFWS Condor website. All birds captured in 2004 showed minor if any lead toxicity.

09-14-2007, 2:40 PM

Given the gravity and magnitude of the legislation before the governor, I assumed that the toxicology reports of the individual birds within the California population would be public record, yet I cannot find them.

Further, it would have been highly prudent for the NRA or the CalNRA to have had a contract with a biologist/toxicologist and that all blood samples were verified for levels of lead toxicity.

If applicable, the NRA/CalNRA should be present at every capturing and blood taking and that a chain of custody be established for the samples, and that a mutually acceptable independent lab is used for blood work ups.

The people who are doing all of this Condor work read like a who’s who of left wing radical environmentalists. They have done an outstanding job of rehabilitating the species, but make no mistake, they cannot be trusted. To leave our fate in their hands is pure folly.

Lastly, and based on the data available, it is quite clear to me this not about saving Condors. This is merely about attacking hunters and firearms enthusiasts. It is undeniable that some lead from lost carcass’ and gut piles has entered the food stream of the Condor. However, the attributed mortality and morbidity does not support the extreme measures now before us.

After all of my research and exhaustive analysis, I can find only 3 Condor deaths from 1992 to 2007 due to lead poisoning, and one of those is very suspect. It is undeniable that some Condors are ingesting spent ammunition lead. Power lines and predators kill far more adult Condors than any other named source.

Further, it is vividly clear, that foreign object ingestion and copper poisoning of chicks and fledglings is the single biggest ‘non-natural’ cause of death. This alone stands out as the single biggest impediment to wild Condor reproductive success. This is supported by the Cambridge excerpt below, as well as the USFWS ‘Field Reports’.

To this day, no one has been able to identify the source of copper
poisoning in the chicks.

Stay armed, with weapons, and knowledge.

Carson Wales
Hole in the Wall Gang

09-14-2007, 2:48 PM

I am not satisfied that I have exhausted this enough and have added these updates as I find them.

Condor trapping (California Condor Update June 14, 2005)

Forty-two condors were trapped for transmitter replacement and lead testing between May 17th and 20th. We now have satellite transmitters on 14 condors! The results from three condors’ blood tests indicated lead exposure. One condor was held for observation, but no birds required treatment. In early June, Condor 203 was observed feeding on a shot coyote carcass on the Kaibab National Forest. The bird was captured, along with a couple other condors that may have fed on the carcass. Condor 203’s blood indicated some lead exposure, but not high enough levels to indicate lead fragments within its system. All the birds were released without requiring treatment.

Source: US Department of the Interior - National Park Service Website, Word DOC, Paragagraph 4, Page 1

09-14-2007, 2:56 PM
US Fish and Wildlife Service Field Notes 2004:

Five Condors Trapped
After almost two months of trying, the last of the flock has finally been trapped, tags and transmitters changed and lead blood levels evaluated. AC9, an original wild bird is notoriously hard to trap. He was trapped and his lead levels were low. Juvenile male condor 239 weighed in at a whopping 25.4 pounds. Condors in the wild generally weigh between 17 and 25 lbs. with an average of about 21.

Another Successful Trapping
Twenty-two condors were trapped June 15 & 16. Tags and transmitters were changed for those that needed them, all lead levels were low on the field test kits and lab results. The birds received boosters for West Nile Virus. The field crew from the Ventana Wilderness Society came down to help along with Vets from the San Diego Zoo, the condor keepers from LA Zoo and keepers from Santa Barbara Zoo. With so many condors needing to be trapped, the extra help made quick work of a large project.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Field Notes 2003:

Semi-Annual Trapping Shows Low Lead Counts
Field Biologists assisted by LA Zoo keepers and Vets trapped the condors on November 18 and 19. Of all the birds trapped, results of the field lead test kit showed all had low lead counts. The blood taken will also be sent off for lab testing, in addition to lead, the samples will be checked to see if the birds have developed resistance to West Nile Virus from the vaccine administered in June. Four condors still need to be trapped in the coming weeks.

Thirty-one Birds Trapped at Hopper
On June 11 and 12 one of the largest trappings to date took place. Such a large scale operation was necessary in order to vaccinate all of the free flying birds in California against the West Nile Virus. Refuge Biologists along with biologists from the Ventana Wilderness Society and Pinnacles National Monument, keepers and vets from Santa Barbara Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo trapped over 30 birds. All the birds were vaccinated, tags and transmitters replaced and blood taken and tested for lead exposure. Both Mike Stockton, Supervising Wildlife Biologist for Hopper and Joe Burnett, Field Supervisor for Ventana were very pleased with the trapping, "Everyone worked hard and we got the job done."

Two birds were found to have elevated lead levels; 107 and a Big Sur bird 170 were transported to the Los Angeles Zoo to be chelated (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/chelation.html). Also taken to the Zoo were 202,who re injured his leg and 247 who had been observed limping in the weeks prior to the trapping. Both lead exposed birds were treated and appeared to be doing well when 170 was found dead in his pen at the Zoo. We are still awaiting a complete necropsy report to determine the cause of death. 107 and 247 were released back into the wild one week later, 202 will remain at the zoo until completely recovered.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Field Notes 2002:

Results of trapping detect high lead levels in original wild bird
On Tuesday, the 12 of November, the Hopper Mountain field crew was finally able to successfully capture the elusive condor #12 (AC-8) as well as 19 other birds. AC-8 is always difficult to capture and it couldn't have been timed better. Both her transmitters had recently failed and although we routinely trap the condors for blood tests, physical checks and transmitter / tag replacement, she most always manages to elude us. After a blood test it was found that she had elevated lead levels, so we decided to take her to the L. A. Zoo for x-rays while we waited for the lab results of her test. X-rays revealed that she had 3 minute particles of lead in her lower intestine and another lead test revealed that her micrograms per deciliter had shot up to a very dangerous 365.0 g/dl !! Meanwhile, of the other 19 condors trapped, only #108 tested a little high. She was placed in the flight pen for observation and subsequent testing showed a significant drop in her lead levels after a few days. We continued to keep an eye on her and after 2 weeks she was released.

On Wednesday, the 20th of November we again trapped and were successful in capturing the remaining 4 condors that had yet to be tested and or have transmitter replacement. Among them was condor # 21 (AC-9) who, like AC-8, is very elusive and difficult to trap. All the birds this time tested low for lead and the overall weights and physical conditions were good with AC-9 weighing in at a whopping 24.6 lbs!! All were released and have continued to stay close to the Hopper Mountain Refuge.

Bird Conservation International
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=0F8B4C1E78178FB7AF7C407 5E6168171.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=1030584
Ingestion of foreign anthropogenic material, here called junk, has been documented in many avian taxa but has become especially problematic in some Old World Gyps vulture populations within the last 30 years. Here, we document the effects of ingested junk on a reintroduced population of the Critically Endangered California Condor Gymnogyps californianus in southern California, U.S.A. Of 13 breeding attempts to date (20012005), only one has resulted in successful fledging. Of nests where either the nest substrate was sifted (n = 10) or nestlings (n = 8) were examined, all but one held junk. Nine nestlings hatched in the wild between 2002 and 2005; of these six died at or near nests and two were removed from the wild for health reasons. Four dead nestlings and two removed from the wild held substantial quantities of junk. In two cases, junk ingestion was determined to be the cause of death. Five of six dead nestlings had elevated hepatic copper levels (150531 ppm dry weight) although the significance of this, if any, remains undetermined. In comparison with historic condor nests (n = 69), junk was more prevalent and of greater size and quantity in reintroduced condor nests. To date, junk ingestion has been the primary cause of nest failure in the reintroduced condor population and threatens the reestablishment of a viable breeding population in southern California.
Cambridge Journals Abstract (Received December 23 2005)(Revised May 10 2006)

09-14-2007, 3:01 PM

Excellent work pulling this together. The copper issue is really interesting and casts some doubt on the ammunition issue.


09-14-2007, 5:14 PM
Carson, I suggest you send your findings to the Governor. I think it would pretty much clear up everything. Thanks.:cool:

M. Sage
09-14-2007, 5:22 PM
Wow! Excellent post!!!


Excellent work pulling this together. The copper issue is really interesting and casts some doubt on the ammunition issue.


I was just thinking the same thing: Copper poisoning is a more serious issue, and they want us to use copper for hunting? Hmmmmmmmmmm.....

09-15-2007, 12:12 AM
Carson, thanks for your post.

Are you implying that the other side is lying?

I do not believe you. They never do that. :rolleyes:

09-15-2007, 12:27 AM
Great info. This is the first actual data that I have seen.
I'll have to refer back to this every time I'm in a discussion.

Make sure to get this to Jim Mathews, he's very vocal about hunters being the problem, and he "represents" us.

Looking at your first table, Missing/Unkown accounts for fully 30.77% of mortality.
While I'm sure enviro whackos will try to claim these as lead; I'll bet these are pretty evenly split along the same percentages as the known causes.

Also, interesting is the very low glycol poisoning; this is always mentioned as a huge danger, guess not. Now, those powerlines.

09-15-2007, 8:15 AM

The following mortality information is directly from the USFWS website (prepared by me in Excel). It relates only to wild condors and their mortality rates and causes of death. I cannot find mortality statistics beyond 2003. Its interesting to note the wildly varying claims of lead toxicity and morbidity/mortality found on the internet from various sources. The USFWS web site seems to be the only reliable and objective source of data that I can find so far concerning mortality and morbidity.

The population data in the graph below is reliable and pulled from several sources including the USFWS, CDFG, Audubon and among others.
Note steady increase in overall population, having crested 300 birds this year. The folks who are taking care of these birds are to be commended for their results (only).

Data Source (http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/Pophistory.html)


I think condors are retarded: how does a bird die in a forest fire?

09-15-2007, 8:47 AM

We should ban Missing, Predators, Power Lines and Unknown before we ban lead ammunition, since they each kill 2x-3x more than lead.

09-15-2007, 10:09 AM
I'm curious as to what animals hunt the condors. That seems more of a problem to me than freakin lead poisoning (that they can't even prove it's bullets!)

09-16-2007, 7:04 PM

The good data is from USFWS, right? A US Government Agency, subject to FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act)? We need to file a FOIA request, and get this info (after we get the AB vetoed)