Condor Watch Talk

The Condor Watch Blog links & reading room

  • wreness by wreness moderator

    • Links to our Condor Watch Blogs

    April 21. 2014 - Condor Watch - The First Two Weeks

    May 28. 2014 - Progress Report

    June 29. 2014 - **Condor News**

    July 16. 2014 - **Update on lead poisoned condors 463 and 481**

    August 21. 2014 - Tracking Condors, One Day at a Time by Zeka Kuspa

    September 6. 2014 - Condor News

    October 1, 2014 - The Color of Condors -- by myraf

    October 28. 2014 - The tragic fate of Condor 401

    December 31. 2014 - Announcing the First Annual Best 2014 CondorWatch Photos Contest

    January 5. 2015 - CondorWatch photo contest extended until Jan 30th!

    February 13. 2015 - And the Winners for The Best 2014 Photo Contest are (drum roll please)….

    April 21. 2015 - Happy 1 Year Anniversary CondorWatch!

    June 2, 2015 - Condors, Lead poisoning and Stress- by Zeka Kuspa

    October 12, 2015 - A Condor’s Lifeby Devon Pryor


  • wreness by wreness moderator

    updated Dec. 2015

    Other terrific Condor Links & Reading related to the project that you might enjoy!

    Feel free to add your own post with anything condor-related that you think people would be interested in or that shares what we do here 😃

    Ventana Wildlife Society and LIVE condor feeding cam - this is the feeding site known as "that site with the cage" Tune into the Live Cam to see the condors at feeding time. Believe it or not, they actually move! Quite a shock to see after you get used to looking at the still photos on Condor Watch. 😃 You can sign up to get exact feeding notifications but the cam is on during daylight hours.

    Read the profiles of some of the condors we see here on Condor Watch at the Pinnacles National Park and more about their condor program here. The most common site you see from Pinnacles is the "site with that pine tree" and the gorgeous hills in the background.

    The Oakland Zoo is home to the Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. This is where condors being treated for lead poisoning are cared for. There is a LIVE cam you can watch any time as well as more information and videos about the condors.

    The San Diego Zoo has a LIVE condor cam and tons of informative pages, articles, photos and info about the captive breeding program and how condors have been pulled back from extinction.

    A page explaining who are the sponsors behind the Condor Watch program and a list and short Bios of our awesome, wonderful scientists. Most visible here on our boards you will see vjbakker and myraf (see their bios) as well as others who never mind stopping in or returning an email to help.

    NRA Admits Ignorance of Basic Facts About Lead Ammo's Lethal Toll on Endangered Condors

    YouTube video: Condors vs. Lead Bullets. This is 8 minutes long and will answer all your questions about lead poisoning, treatment and the people behind it.

    California Condors U.S Fish & Wildlife Sacramento, CA Facebook page

    State ban on lead ammunition supported by years of research at UCSC - about the California State ban on lead ammunition which will be implemented in 2019.

    Study confirms ammunition as main source of lead poisoning in condors. . . From the University of California Santa Cruz Press


  • wreness by wreness moderator

    From the Ventana Wildlife Society:

    Respected and established environmental publication The Ecologist published an article entitled Condors or lead ammunition? We can't have both. Journalist Dawn Starin drove home the message that there is hope for condors in a lead free environment. Lead poisoning of condors is the number one killer of this magnificent species. More specifically lead from spent ammunition is the key culprit.

    Sarin follows the life of Ventana (aka condor #444 - you knew her best as White 44 from her successful release into the wild, surviving multiple chelating therapies, and finally her passing. Ventana is not alone. According to research conducted by Myra Finkelstein (that's Condorwatch's @myraf !) at the University of California Santa Cruz, almost 50% of the free-flying condor population in California have had blood lead levels high enough to trigger hospitalization and clinical therapy.

    The importance of monitoring and mitigating lead exposure is key to helping the current flock survive and prevent lead-related mortalities. Organizations like the LA Zoo, Oakland Zoo, and Ventana Wildlife Society will continue to save condors until lead in their envionment can be reduced substantially. The passage of AB711, (a California law that bans the use of lead-based ammunition for hunting) comes into full effect July 2019. Until that time, condors need our continued support.

    "Visions of a Lead Free Future for Condors.....there is hope for their future"

    The recent death of Ventana the condor in Los Angeles zoo illustrates a simple truth, writes Dawn Starin: wild condors cannot survive so long as the dead amimals they eat are riddled with lead from spent ammunition. With lead poisoning to blame for 60% of condor deaths, it's time to ban lead ammunition across their entire range - and beyond.

    Until all natural food sources are free from lead-based ammunition, lead poisoning will threaten recovery of naturally sustaining populations of condors in the wild.
    Seven-year-old Ventana, the oldest living wild-raised condor chick in the Central California flock, died at the Los Angeles Zoo on August 26th, where she was being treated for lead poisoning - for the fourth time.

    The death occurred less than one year after Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, signed into law Assembly Bill 711, which will eventually ban the use of lead-based ammunition for wildlife hunting throughout the state, and less than two weeks away from International Vulture Awareness Day.

    Known as Condor #444 to the many condor spotters who searched the skies with their binoculars, Ventana hatched from an egg laid at the Los Angeles Zoo and was raised in the wild by condor foster parents.

    She spent the first six months of her life 40 feet off the ground in the cavity of a Big Sur giant redwood. Soaring on thermals, Ventana eventually left Big Sur on the Pacific coast for the mountainous Central California Pinnacles National Park.

    There she paired up with Condor #340 in 2012 and in the spring of 2013 she laid an egg in one of the Pinnacles cliff cavities. Unfortunately, the egg failed to hatch.

    Wild condors - only surviving on intensive care

    Ventana, like nearly every surviving wild California condor was fitted with radio tags and like many she also had a GPS tag. These tags allow biologists to track the whereabouts, the movements, the behavior and the health of the condors.

    Condors are normally trapped twice a year for general health checks and to test for lead poisoning and, if necessary, treat the condors for lead exposure and change transmitter batteries. The purpose of monitoring and mitigating lead exposure is to inform management and policymaking and prevent lead-related mortalities.

    This past May, Ventana was trapped and tested positive for lead. She was then taken to a new facility at the Oakland Zoo where she was the first lead-poisoned bird to be treated at the zoo's new Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center.

    Before the Oakland Zoo opened this facility, the only place set up to care for seriously ill wild condors was much farther south at the Los Angeles Zoo, a time-consuming and arduous trip for a critically sick condor from Central California.

    Ventana responded well to her chelation therapy - an intramuscular administration of chemicals that bind to lead so that it can be excreted from the body - and after 22 days of supportive care in captivity she was healthy enough to be released back to Pinnacles.

    However, a few months later Ventana was seen acting strangely and stumbling, so she was re-captured and tests revealed high levels of lead in her blood.

    Half of California's wild condors suffer from high lead levels

    Ventana's predicament was not an isolated case. According to research conducted by Myra Finkelstein and her colleagues at the University of California Santa Cruz, almost 50% of the free-flying condor population in California have had blood lead levels high enough to trigger hospitalization and clinical therapy. And like Ventana, some individuals have needed numerous chelation treatments within a single year.

    Some observable signs of clinical lead poisoning in condors are lethargy, a drop in dominance at the feeding stations, and paralysis of the crop / digestive system and then the legs - a particularly cruel way to die.

    A poisoned animal cannot function normally in its environment, so it is more susceptible to predators. Since it cannot get or digest food, it can slowly starve to death.

    The number of condor deaths would most certainly be greater if not for the intensive management (i.e. food provisioning) and treatment conducted to ensure condor survival, and prompt treatment has saved the lives of several birds. Regrettably, Ventana was not one of them.

    In the final necropsy by the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab, Ventana was found to be emaciated, while her bone lead level was almost double threshold levels. A small lead-bearing metal fragment was recovered from her digestive tract.

    It was always hoped that Ventana would raise chicks of her own and that her chicks would represent the first generation of wild-born-and-raised condors. Now that will not happen. Sometimes the lead levels are just too high, the condor's physiological systems have been too compromised and/or the treatment comes too late. Two other condors from the Central California flock also died from lead poisoning this year.

    Ventana "was special", says Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which has been leading the effort in Central California to bring back these majestic birds from near extinction - and brought joy to many people and taught us much about condor behaviour.

    "While Ventana's death is truly a disappointment," said Sorenson, "I remain optimistic that we can eventually reduce lead to reasonable levels and expand the condor range, and if we keep at it we will succeed, but the real question is, how long must we wait for success?"

    60% of condor deaths down to a single cause: lead

    According to Bruce Rideout, the director of the wildlife disease laboratories for San Diego Zoo Global, lead poisoning is the most important mortality factor for critically endangered, free-ranging condors and the most significant challenge to their recovery as a species. And, the numbers back him up.

    According to John McCamman, the California Condor Coordinator, 237 condor deaths took place in the wild population from 1992 until the end of 2013. Of the 137 where the cause of death was determined, 51 (37%) were due to lead poisoning.

    Over 60% of the adult and juvenile deaths (that is, excluding chicks and fledglings) in the wild population have been as a result of lead poisoning; a statistic that is perhaps more important considering the significant investment in time and resources required to bring a condor to adulthood and their potential for breeding.

    Because condors have been known to live past the age of 50, do not breed until they are at least six years old, and raise only one chick every other year, their populations cannot withstand the mortality rates caused by this neurological toxin.

    The wild condor population is only growing because of releases from captivity and intense management. "They're being held back by lead", says Sorenson. Finkelstein agrees: "The number of birds born just doesn't make up for the number of birds that die from lead posioning. That's what needs to change."

    A recent study published in Conservation Biology evaluating the blood lead levels in wild condors over the past 15 years by epidemiologist Terra Kelly and her colleagues concluded that older breeding condors are most likely to be exposed to higher levels of lead - especially those that are gaining independence from food provisioning, and flying farther away from supplementary feeding sites.

    Where's the lead coming from?

    All scientific evidence to date overwhelmingly shows that the principal source of lead poisoning in condors is from lead-based ammunition and that lead poisoning increases during hunting season across the condors' range.

    Other sources of year-round lead-based ammunition include non-game animal hunting, depredation or shooting of wildlife on private land, euthanization of farm animals, and poaching.

    Part of the problem is that lead is a soft metal that fragments upon impact, leaving hundreds of small pieces in and around the wounded area of the animal. This also makes condor populations particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from lead-based ammunition because of their communal feeding behaviour.

    According to the US Department of the Interior, since condors are group feeders and only one or two lead fragments or shot pellets can cause lead toxicity, just a single animal carcass or gut pile containing lead fragments or lead shot has the potential to poison several condors.

    Against intense opposition, widespread media coverage and the deep pockets of the National Rifle Association, which considers the groups trying to ban lead-based ammunition "extremists", "duplicitous" and "scavengers", in October 2013 the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 711. This law bans the use of lead-based ammunition whilst hunting wildlife throughout the state. But unfortunately it won't come into full effect until July 2019 - obviously too late for Ventana.

    Can the critically endangered condor hold on until then? With each passing year more lead will enter the environment, potentially exposing many other condors as well as other scavenging birds and mammals that feed on carcasses to lead poisoning and death.

    Condors (who can fly hundreds of miles a day) and other birds and mammals can also cross state lines, so a ban on lead-based ammunition that extends only as far as the state's borders is not enough.

    According to Terra Kelly, until all natural food sources are free from lead-based ammunition, "lead poisoning will threaten recovery of naturally sustaining populations of condors in the wild."

    For Joe Burnett, the Big Sur condor project coordinator for the Ventana Wildlife Society, it is clear that the only way to ensure survival of the California condor population is to eradicate lead-based ammunition because "the birds cannot reproduce fast enough to make up for the numbers that are dying from lead poisoning."

    Hunting is not the problem

    Many of the individuals and organizations who have been involved with condor conservation are not anti-hunting. They are simply anti-lead.

    Rachel Wolstenholme, Condor Program Manager at Pinnacles National Park, maintains, "Hunting and ranching operations can actually provide valuable food for condors and other scavengers." However, she stresses: "Lead-based ammunition must not have been used in the operations for it to be safe to eat."

    Wolstenholme is not alone in her beliefs. Christine Johnson, a professor at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and co-author on the recent paper published in Conservation Biology that evaluated the condor blood lead levels, emphasizes:

    "Hunters and ranchers who use non-lead ammunition have made an invaluable contribution to the health of scavenging wildlife by providing critically important food sources for scavengers."

    There is also the very strong belief amongst many conservation groups that the way to avoid life-threatening lead poisoning and more needless deaths is not to stop hunting, but rather to try and change long-term hunting traditions and persuade all shooters, everywhere, to use non-lead ammunition now - and not wait for the July 2019 cut-off date.

    In fact, the Ventana Wildlife Society believes that the literature linking lead poisoning in condors to lead from spent ammunition is so strong that they hand out free non-lead ammunition to hunters.

    The ultimate goal - a lead-free environment

    Dr. Andrea Goodnight, associate veterinarian at the Oakland Zoo, originally treated Ventana, and has personally seen the effects of lead poisoning from spent ammunition on other condors. No opponent of hunting per se, she is convinced that lead ammunition must be eliminated from the environment:

    "We are not saying don't hunt. We are simply saying hunt responsibly by not using lead-based ammunition. Lead has been legally taken out of gasoline and paint. The military doesn't use lead, and if that isn't a huge message I don't know what is. Animals die. It happens. I know that. But we did this to Ventana.

    "We as a human race did this to her. It was our fault. We were given these big brains to solve problems. And now we all have to use our big brains to solve this problem that we have created. The solution is not that complicated. It is quite simple. We have to take responsibility for this and we have to stop using lead-based ammunition now before other condors, other species fall victims to this practice.

    "We need these magnificent birds. These opportunistic scavengers keep diseases down by eating rotting and putrid carrion. If valuable scavengers disappear from our ecosystem, who knows what will happen? Ultimately, this is not simply a condor issue. It's bigger than that. This is an ecosystem and a public health issue."

    Like Sorenson, however, Goodnight is optimistic about the condor recovery project. Walking from her office at the Oakland Zoo's Veterinary Hospital to the isolated 900-square-foot condor recovery center where the chelation therapy is carried out on poisoned condors, Goodnight insists: "I think there is every reason to be hopeful. Everyone involved in the project has hope."

    Goodnight and I look through a plate glass window separating us from Condor #411, an 8-year-old adult male from Pinnacles, transported to the center in a large modified dog crate because his blood lead levels were abnormally high.

    After treatment he now seems fit and will soon be transported back to the Pinnacles. Looking at the magnificent, majestic #411, Goodnight expresses her greatest hope of all:

    "The ultimate goal for all of us is that eventually there will be no more lead poisoning and we will be out of the condor recovery business. There are not very many careers where you actively try to put yourself out of a job. This is one of them."

    Dawn Starin is honorary research associate at University College London. She conducts and writes about anthropological and environmental research. Her articles have been published in numerous publications including Christian Science Monitor, Daily Telegraph, The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, New Internationalist, New Statesman, The New York Times, The Times of India, and Yes!.

    Author's note: As time of writing, condor 411 is once again soaring above Pinnacles after spending three weeks recovering at the center.

    Moderator Note: 411 was found dead on 12/6/14 Cause of death: undetermined; scavenged remains. This condor wore the tags Black11 Underline and White11 See blog for more info


  • wreness by wreness moderator

    Article - The Contra Costa Times - Monterey Woman Found Guilty of Using Lead Ammunition


  • DZM by DZM admin

    So silly and unnecessary... and sad...


  • vjbakker by vjbakker scientist

    Radio story on pole aversion training for condors:
    This program has successfully reduced deaths due to electrocution. Nonetheless, there are still occasional deaths due to power line collisions and electrocution, including 301 (mostly wore Black1 3dots) in 2007 and 306 (mostly wore Black06 3dots) in 2013


  • vjbakker by vjbakker scientist

    Myra added a post to the CW blog highlighting our recent paper on condor survival:

    From the abstract: "We found that as flocks have increased in size and age, condors are increasingly likely to range more widely and less likely to be observed feeding on proffered food, and these “wilder” behaviors were associated with lower survival. After accounting for these behaviors, we found a positive survival trend, which we attribute to ongoing improvements in management. Our findings illustrate that the survival of translocated animals, such as highly social California condors, is influenced by behaviors that change through time"

    In other words, managers are doing a good job reducing threats for condors, but as the flocks grow and mature, condors are becoming more wide ranging and less reliant on feeding stations, and presumably more likely to find and consume carcasses on the landscape. These found carcasses may be contaminated with lead-based ammunition. This increased expression of risky behaviors makes the job of managers something worthy of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. She tells Alice "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

    I borrow here from the Red Queen Hypothesis in evolutionary biology that applies this concept to the coevolution of predators and prey or hosts and parasites.


  • ElisabethB by ElisabethB moderator

    A really (really!) interesting blog post !
    Condor Watch photos suggest tantalizing patterns in the evolution of social networks of California condors