Seven endangered California condors have become sick with lead poisoning.
The birds started turning up sick about a month ago during random trappings at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in the San Joaquin Valley.California condors typically succumb to lead poisoning after ingesting fragments of lead bullets that remain in animal carcasses shot and left behind by hunters. In recent years, the ingestion of lead fragments has been one of the major obstacles to condors' recovery from near-extinction.
One of the birds died during treatment at the Los Angeles Zoo, and six others are still being treated there.
Officials do not yet know the source of the contamination, but a United States Fish and Wildlife Service official said the birds had probably been poisoned by eating the carcasses of animals shot by hunters....
The California condor nearly became extinct in the 1980s, but a trapping and breeding program has helped restore the species. There are about three dozen of the endangered birds in Southern California and about 200 in the wild over all.
Last year, in response to the problem, California enacted a ban on the use or possession of lead ammunition within the condors' territory. Unfortunately the ban will not go into effect until July 1 of this year, so hunters may still be using the lead bullets in condor restoration areas in the meantime. Even after the ban takes effect, many years worth of bullet fragments will still be left in the environment, so condors may feel the effects of human hunting for years to come.