Thom Lord— 15 January 2007 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field readers! As hunting season came to a close in early December, Condor Project biologists maintained efforts in tracking and trapping birds— collecting valuable data on lead exposure in the population. We were able to capture and test the vast majority of the Arizona population by the end of the month, and we treated a number of condors for lead exposure in our Vermilion Cliffs treatment facility. We also continued the collection of carcasses from the field, both to gather data on the occurrence of lead fragments in the carcasses, and to prevent the birds from being exposed to those that did contain lead.
Although the project biologists did an outstanding job on all fronts, it proved impossible to completely prevent the condors from being exposed to lead. By the end of December, we had been able to capture and test all but a few of the condors in Arizona and Utah. A significant proportion of the trapped birds showed lead levels high enough to warrant treatment for lead poisoning. Fortunately, almost all of these birds were captured early enough in their exposure to be treated successfully and released. To our great sadness, however, we did record one fatality in the course of the month.
Condor 119, a breeding female, was trapped on 19 December and found to have an elevated blood lead level. We brought her to our treatment facility, and immediately began chelation therapy to reduce her lead levels. Subsequent X-rays showed that Condor 119 had a number of tiny metallic objects in her digestive tract—likely the lead fragments that were contributing to her elevated levels. We decided that the situation warranted her transfer to the Phoenix Zoo for more extensive treatment. She seemed to be responding well to the therapy, but her condition took a sudden turn for the worse and she died on 29 December. Condor 119’s death had a great impact on all of us on the Condor Project; the loss of any bird is difficult, even more so with a breeding bird that has been in Arizona longer than most of the crew has. If anything has come of her death, however, it is our ever-strengthening resolve to learn whatever we can from each of these losses, and work toward a solution to this problem as quickly as possible.
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