Five endangered condors have lead poisoning

– Francisco Vara-Orta – L.A. UNLEASHED

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are in “crisis mode” because at least five endangered California condors have been found with lead poisoning in the weeks leading up to a statewide ban on lead bullets, the Associated Press reports.

The birds started turning up sick about a month ago during random trappings at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Kern County’s southwestern San Joaquin Valley foothills. One bird died during treatment at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Since there are only about 34 of the endangered birds in Southern California, officials called the number significant.

Jesse Grantham, the agency’s condor coordinator, said that officials won’t know the source of the contamination until next week, but that the birds probably were poisoned by eating tainted carcasses at Bitter Creek, Lake Piru or Tejon Ranch. Of the three areas, only Tejon Ranch allows hunting.

Tejon spokesman Barry Zoeller told the AP that the landholder is worried. The ranch banned the use of lead bullets six months ago.

The condors aren’t the only birds facing toxic threats in California.

Last month, The Times’ Marla Cone reported that California’s peregrine falcons, once driven to the edge of extinction by the pesticide DDT, are now contaminated with record-high levels of other toxic chemicals that may threaten them again.

— Francisco Vara-Orta

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