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Lead-poisoned California condor had also been shot, says L.A. Zoo

March 13, 2009 |  7:56 pm

Condor A California condor suffering from lead poisoning was captured last Wednesday in the California central coast and brought to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment the next day.

Wildlife biologists had noted a marked change in the behavior of the condor, a male identified as #286 (all California condors are identified by studbook numbers).  The 6-year-old bird had previously been high in the pecking order in his flock, but toward the end of January younger and less dominant birds started picking on him.  The Salinas Californian reports:

A sudden shift in behavior by 286 was an indication the bird may have health problems. "We had been trying to capture him since late January because of signs of weakness and poor health," said Ventana Wildlife Society biologist Joe Burnett. Upon capture on March 4, biologists noted the condor was wobbly on his feet. Testing revealed a high lead level in his blood, indicating potentially fatal lead exposure. Condor biologists immediately transferred the bird to the Los Angeles Zoo for lead poisoning treatment.

Unfortunately for 286, his problems don't end at lead poisoning.  Today, zoo officials announced that an X-ray has revealed shotgun pellets embedded in his body.  From the Californian:

Once lead treatment has been completed, Zoo veterinarians plan to extract the pellets to determine the type of ammunition. "We are extremely grateful the bird is still alive, but dismayed this innocent condor was both lead poisoned and gunshot," said Kelly Sorenson, Executive Director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

286's lead poisoning is unrelated to the shotgun pellets discovered in the X-ray.  Since condors are scavengers, it's believed that he was exposed to lead through eating the carcasses of animals killed with lead ammunition.

Susie Kasielke, the zoo's curator of birds, says the condor's prognosis is guarded and he is essentially in intensive care, according to the Associated Press.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Associated Press

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