L.A. Zoo Treats Record High 21 California Condors for Lead Toxicity

CONTACT: April Spurlock

October 29, 2013


California-Condor-Photo-by-Tad-MotoyamaAssembly Bill 711 May Reduce Future Treatments

The Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is bustling this month with the admittance of 21 California condors, a record high brought in by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for lead treatment.

“We’re extremely alarmed at the high number of condors coming in during this hunting season,” said Dr. Curtis Eng, Chief Veterinarian and Manager, California Condor Program at the Los Angeles Zoo. “Normally when the birds are brought in they appear perfectly healthy, and when we test their blood we find high levels of lead. As a result, they need treatment. In addition to the high number of birds, what is even more alarming is lately a few of the birds brought in this time have been sickened by the lead which is unusual. These birds have been coming in at a low body weight, not eating at all, and showing signs of crop stasis, when the stomach stops moving food. That’s scary to see so many clinically sick birds.”

Due to the risk of lead exposure to California condors being so great, the wildlife biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trap these endangered birds twice a year for routine lead blood testing, typically once in June and once at the end of the hunting season in November or December. If positive, typically the birds are brought in to the Zoo by the wildlife biologists for intensive treatment. The Los Angeles Zoo oversees the medical treatment for all of the condors in the state of California. Upon arrival, the birds receive a thorough physical examination, radiographs to determine if any metal particles are within the bird, blood drawn to assess organ function of the animal, and then the animal is treated for lead toxicity. Most birds respond quickly to the treatment, being released within 3 weeks. Some take much longer, but overall the prognosis is very good when they do not show signs of illness.

On Oct. 11, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation into law which makes California the first state to require hunters to use non-lead ammunition, to be phased in by 2019. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believe this to be a step in the right direction toward
preserving these rare and beautiful birds. “Reducing and eventually eliminating the use of lead ammunition is an essential step in condor
recovery,” said John McCamman, California Condor Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Every effort towards that goal benefits wildlife, from the decision of an individual hunter to use non-toxic ammunition to the passage of a law that eventually bans its use. It’s all important.”

In the meantime, The Los Angeles Zoo will continue its support of the California Condor Recovery Program, a conservation group it’s been a proud partner of since the 1980s. “The LA Zoo is an essential partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conserving Californa condors,” said John McCamman. “The Zoo’s treatment of more than 20 condors as a result of these most recent lead exposures has been crucial to the success and viability of the wild condor population.”

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. For general information, call (323) 644-4200.