The birth of a chick earlier this year to a pair of nesting California condors was cause for celebration at Pinnacles National Monument, but scientists tracking the health of the young bird have bad news. Due to extremely high levels of lead in its blood, it's been necessary to evacuate the bird from its nest to a specialized facility for intensive treatment.
Condor biologists at Pinnacles National Monument and Ventana Wildlife Society tracking the health of the young wild condor discovered the problem last week. Park Service biologists then trapped the parent male, condor 318, and discovered he also has toxic levels of lead in his blood.
The adult condor was immediately taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for chelation (a treatment to remove lead from the body) while the 50-day old chick was treated by veterinarians and condor biologists in the nest during early morning climbs into the rocky cliff cavern. Chelation is a process used in condors in which calcium EDTA, a chemical that binds with heavy metals, is injected into the animals to prevent retention of lead in the tissues.
Although the adult female continued to care for its young and the nestling received several emergency chelation and hydrating fluid injections, the young condor’s health continued to decline. As a result, biologists decided yesterday that, for the survival of the nestling, it needed to be evacuated to a facility where it could receive more intensive care.
National Park Service and Ventana Wildlife Society biologists are trying to trap the adult female of this pair to determine if she too has been exposed to lead. This condor nest was the first inside Pinnacles National Monument since re-establishment efforts began there in 2003 and the first documented successful hatching of a condor in the park in over one hundred years.
Lead poisoning has been an on-going problem for condor populations. Condors are exclusively scavengers, feeding on a wide range of dead mammals. Research has established that the principle source of lead exposure among condors is lead ammunition.
Lead Ammunition has been banned for the taking of big game in parts of central and southern California, although that move has been a controversial one for some hunters. Park officials note that shooters who have made the switch to non-lead ammunition have made an invaluable contribution to the health of scavenging wildlife.
News about the park's nesting pair of condors attracted considerable attention earlier this year. According to the park, hundreds of visitors over the past two months have enjoyed the rare opportunity to witness an active condor nest in the wild. Pinnacles National Monument will keep the temporary closure area around the nest in place until biologists determine whether the nestling can be returned to the wild.
If you'd like more information about the condor program at Pinnacles, you'll find details on the park website.