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Condor ill with lead poisoning dies at L.A. Zoo as fight to protect species spreads to Argentina

September 10, 2008 |  6:31 pm

A 4-year-old female condor captured Friday in Big Sur and rushed to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment of lead poisoning has died, according to the Monterey County Herald:

The bird, identified as Condor No. 336, was shaking and weak when found by Ventana Wildlife biologist Sayre Flannagan, who caught it in a net on the ground in Big Sur.

Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit group in California that breeds condors for introduction to the wild, said the condor was released three years ago at Pinnacles National Monument and was living and scavenging in Big Sur.

It was initially taken to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey, given a blood test that showed "really high, life-threatening levels" of lead, and given emergency treatment, according to Ventana Society senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett. The bird was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for more comprehensive veterinary treatment. (L.A.'s zoo has a condor habitat.)

The bird appeared to rally at first, he said, but weakened and succumbed Sunday.

A normal adult condor weighs 18 to 25 pounds, said Burnett. Condor No. 336 was down to 10.9 pounds when captured.

"It's hard to bounce back from a weight loss like that," Burnett said.

National Park Service superintendent Eric Brunneman at the Pinnacles told the County Herald that Condor No. 336 was "perhaps our most well-known condor," because the bird had been featured in a video on YouTube eating a deer heart:

Condor No. 336's death comes on the heels of a contentious battle over lead ammunition and the implementation on July 1 of a bill banning the use of lead ammunition in hunting.

California's condors are a fiercely guarded endangered species that has recently faced wildfire threats from Big Sur to L.A. and a West Coast-based struggle to procreate.

In the latest development in protection efforts, officials at the Pinnacles National Monument also announced today that a team of U.S. and Argentine scientists are joining forces in a five-year project to boost the condor population soaring above California and the Andes.

The Associated Press' Debora Rey reports:

Scientists from Pinnacles National Monument in central California visited Argentina this week to improve tracking and studying techniques of the birds, whose 9-foot wingspan has inspired reverence among indigenous people of the Americas for centuries.

The number of California condors is estimated at around 300 — half of which are in captivity — and they are still in danger of extinction. The Andean condor, a different species, has fared better: There are between 2,000 and 3,000 of the birds gliding over Argentina's snowy crags.

Argentine and U.S. scientists have been working together since the early 1980s, when the California condor was on the brink of extinction. U.S. scientists applied successful efforts in Argentina to breed condors in captivity and then release them to salvage a waning California population.

“The situation of the condors in both countries is grave,” said Pinnacles biologist Denise Louie.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

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