The population of endangered California condors ( Gymnogyps californianus ) hit an important milestone last month, reaching a high of 405birds quite an achievement for a species that was down to its last22 individuals just 25 years ago. California condors North America's largest birds, with awingspan of up to 1.4 meters were almost wiped out by poaching,DDT and lead poisoning before all of the remaining birds at thetime were brought in from the wild in 1987. Captive breedingprograms have increased the number of condors dramatically sincethen, and according to the April 30 census cited by The Oregonian , there are now 226 California condors living in the wild inCalifornia, Arizona and nearby Baja, Mexico. An additional 179birds live in zoos and breeding centers. The population hasincreased more than 20 percent in the last two and a half yearsalone. |
But condors still face threats on several fronts, chief among themthe continued use of lead bullets by hunters in Arizona. Californiabanned lead ammunition in the condors' habitats in 2007, butefforts to limit its use in Arizona have so far failed. Condors, asscavengers, eat the carcasses of animals killed by lead ammo (orthe "gut piles" of innards left behind by hunters) andoften die as a result. At least 22 of the condors released inArizona have died from lead poisoning, according to a report from MSNBC . Up to 95 percent of the birds in the state have lead present intheir blood, and a painful and sometimes fatal process called chelation is often used to remove the lead fromtheir bodies in both states.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department says efforts asking hunters to voluntarily use lead-free ammo (or turn in gut piles from animals killed withlead ammo) are working and blames the condors themselves forgetting sick, saying they are flying over the border into Utah andeating lead-laced carrion there. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other organizationsdon't buy that excuse: Last week they notified the U.S.Forest Service that they would sue to stop the continued usage of lead ammo in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest, which is home to morethan 60 of the state's 78 condors. This will be the latestCBD lawsuit attempting to limit the use of lead ammo, which hasbeen cited as the biggest threat to condor survival in the wild. Condors also face a potential threat from wind farms being plannedin California.
Several environmental groups have filed lawsuits toblock construction of certain wind farms thought to pose risks tothe birds. "We want to see wind prevail," Defenders ofWildlife California Program Director Kim Delfino told AmericanPublic Media's Marketplace . "But we also want to see it done smartly." Meanwhile, even captive breeding is far from foolproof. Californiacondors only lay one egg a year, and survival rates are still onthe low side.
Out of eight eggs laid at the Oregon Zoo'sJonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation this spring, one wasinfertile, one embryo died in the egg and two chicks died ofindeterminable causes. Previously in Extinction Countdown: "Fight to Protected California Condors from Lead AmmunitionMoves to Arizona" Photo courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish andWildlife Service.
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