Tag Archives: lead bullets

Contact Gov. to Save the Condors (Condor Lead Bill AB 821)

The reintroduction of the California Condor to some of its historic ranges has been a success story except for one deadly environmental factor–lead in bullets.  My fascination with condors began more than a quarter of a century ago when I first saw Topa Topa at the L.A. Zoo. I spotted a huge black bird perched on a swing. This turned out to be Topa Topa, who was captured as a fledgling–at that time rather young, but now the zoo’s 41-year-old veteran male and considered the oldest condor in the world. I was the only person around, and as I approached the cage, Topa Topa took off and glided–9 feet of wingspan– next to me. Separated by some wire, I spent the next 30-minutes watching and talking to him. He was so ugly he was cute, and I saw a neurotic intensity in his eyes, that of an intelligent animal confined.

Afterwards, I’ve followed the plight of the nearly extinct condor. Never did I expect to see one in the wild in California.  Never did I realize that you and I could help save them.

Two years ago I was awestruck as a California Condor landed near me in Pinnacles National Monument–the windspan resembling a small airplane. Subsequently, I watched a flock of condors feeding on a beached sea lion along the Big Sur coastline (and playing on a washed-up auto carcass). The condor in Pinnacles was lounging around on a boulder that afternoon while his two juvenile buddies (they were known as The Three Scrooges) were flying a hundred miles due east. Biologist watched #67 intensely. Later I found out that #67 had been recaptured and had to be treated for lead poisoning. I hope he is still alive.

Condors are large, highly intelligent vultures with 9 and 1/2- foot wing spans. The native Californians revered them as “cleansers of the earth,” symbols of creation–the Thunderbirds.  Condors were decimated during the Gold Rush when they were killed for their flight feathers, whose large quills were used to transport gold dust. In the 1890s there were an estimated 600 condors in the wild. By 1982, there were 22 remaining. Three years later, the population was down to 16. In a controversial move, the last of the condors in the wild were captured and placed in a captive breeding program.  The captive breeding program has been highly successful in bringing the species back, and there are now nearly 300 condors (some in Arizona). From the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce:


[This page has an excellent PBS VIDEO called Condors vs. Lead Bullets]

Today the population of California condors has grown to more than 275. Of those, about 125 live in the wild at Big Sur, Pinnacles, Ventura County and the Grand Canyon, with a few in Baja California, Mexico. The rest live in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and other facilities.

“This nest puts us one step closer to our goal of having 150 condors in the wild with 15 breeding pairs,” said Kelly Sorenson, Executive Director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

The greatest threat to the condor recovery is lead poisioning caused by lead ammunition.  Condors can ingest lead shot or fragments of lead bullets left in carcasses.  A single small fragment of lead can kill a condor. Condors are constantly being subjected to lead poisoning as long as bullets in condor country contain lead. As obligate scavengers, condors eat dead animals. Lead shot scatters in killed game (and is not healthy for humans who might ingest it). For condors, just a little of the scattered lead can be deadly. It enters their bloodstream and blocks neurological receptors that affect the digestive system–the bird no longer feels hunger and dies of starvation. Condors are having to be captured and tested for lead in their blood. If lead is found, they have to go through the painful process of chelation, which binds to the lead in the bloodsteam and allows it to be excreted. Capturing and re-capturing condors to protect them against a known environmental hazard does not make sense.

By switching bullets to non-lead bullets, the condor could be saved. This is what Kelly Sorenson says we can do to help:

AB 821 already passed the concurrence vote at the Assembly so the bill is on the way to the Governor.  Please take a minute and either call or email the Governor.  The phone number is 916-445-2841.  Type 1 (English) or 2 (Spanish), then 2 to voice your opinion about legislation followed by 0.  You may be put on hold for a couple of minutes but then you will speak with a staff member.  All they want to know is the bill number (AB 821 – condor bill) and that you are in favor of the Governor signing it into law.  For email go to http://ent.groundspr….  It is a two-step process but only takes a few minutes.  Here is what I wrote.  Feel free to use parts of it, but please make it your own so that the Governor’s office doesn’t see the exact message over and over. I have been working with condors for 10 years and all that time condors have been poisoned by lead.  We now know it is primarily from ammunition and it is preventable.  Please take a few minutes to urge the Governor to sign this bill into law.  Thank you in advance. 

[NOTE: Kelly Sorenson’s letter contains some facts that you might use in your own letter. Please do not copy his letter.]

Dear Governor,

Please pass into law AB 821, which requires the use of nonlead ammunition in condor range.  Ammunition is the predominant, if not the only, source of exposure to condors and you now have the power to protect them in the wild.  Lead is the number one threat to condors and it is preventable.  Although the Fish and Game Commission is expected to consider amending the California Code of Regulations, I believe that AB 821 is essential for three important reasons:  1)  there is no guarantee the Commission will vote in favor of protecting condors, 2) the law and the regulations do not conflict and in fact complement each other rather well, and 3) with all due respect to the current Commissioners the Commission has failed to act since 2005 when the issue was first raised with them, which prompted Mr. Nava to introduce this legislation.  The Commission is not expected to vote until December of this year at the earliest. 

This is not anti-hunting in the least, just anti-lead.  Lead is toxic to anything that ingests it and it is time to remove it from ammunition as well as paint, gasoline, children’s toys, etc.  Until lead is removed from the Condor’s food supply we have no hope for their recovery. You and you alone can save the condor!  You put the condor on the California quarter and you can keep them safe in the wild too.


Kelly Sorenson
Executive Director
Ventana Wildlife Society