One lead-poisoned and shot condor dies at L.A. Zoo, the other is rereleased

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Good news and bad news about the central coast’s endangered California condor population.

The bad news: California condor #286, who was found suffering from lead poisoning by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists in early March, has died.

A statement released by the Wildlife Society said the condor ‘will be remembered as key contributor to our elite group of free-flying condors. This flock wouldn’t be where they are today without condors like 286...he will be sorely missed.’

#286 (condors are identified by their studbook numbers) was affectionately called ‘Pinns’ because he was among the first six California condors to be released at Pinnacles National Monument. He’d lived in the wild until biologists noticed him ailing and captured him so he could receive treatment.


He’d been in critical condition since his arrival at the zoo and had to be kept on a feeding tube for a number of weeks, since the lead poisoning had disabled his digestive tract.

Adding to #286’s troubles was the fact that he’d been shot -- when giving him an X-ray, zoo staff found 15 shotgun pellets lodged in his body. (The shotgun pellets were apparently unrelated to the lead poisoning; since condors are scavengers, it’s believed that he was poisoned by feeding on the carcasses of animals shot with lead ammunition.)

The bullets found in the bird, however, were apparently unrelated to his death. Zoo staff were unable to remove the lead from his bloodstream, and at the time of his death Monday he’d lost more than half of his body weight, the Associated Press reports.

The good news: A second California condor, a juvenile female identified as #375, who was also found both lead-poisoned and shot by the Wildlife Society, has been re-released.

Although #375 was in much better shape than her male counterpart when she was found in late March, it was feared that she might never be able to return to the wild. Fortunately, after weeks of daily injections to remove the lead from her system, she recovered and was set free earlier this month. The Wildlife Society reports that she’s doing well and provides this video of her release:

Ingestion of lead ammunition is seen as one of the biggest threats to the severely endangered condors’ survival in the wild. A new law that went into effect last summer banned the use of lead ammunition in the condors’ range, but the Associated Press reports that many hunters aren’t obeying:

Most of the big game and varmint hunters responding to a survey distributed at Monterey County sporting goods stores say nonleaded ammunition is expensive, ineffective or inaccurate. There were 76 responses.

Forty-one hunters described nonleaded copper bullets as ‘wounders’ that lack the knockdown power of conventional lead bullets. They called them ineffective and inhumane, with one hunter writing, ‘tired of chasing wounded animals.’

Nearly a third of those responding say they ignored the law.

It’s unclear whether #286 and #375 were shot purposely or accidentally. Although the lead poisoning appears to be the greater issue facing the birds, donors have assembled a $40,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of their shooter or shooters.

At the species’ lowest point, only 23 birds were known to be alive. Today, there are slightly more than 300, about half of whom live in the wild.

-- Lindsay Barnett