Oakland Zoo treats California condor with lead poisoning

OAKLAND (KRON) — Veterinarians at the Oakland Zoo are treating a California condor for lead poisoning.

Biologists say the bird, named Miracle was found to have a high level of lead in her blood during a routing check at Pinnacles National Park on May 27. Miracle is the first wild chick born in more than a century in Big Sur, as part of the California Condor Recovery Program.

“When a bird’s blood levels are high, it’s critical for us to take them in for veterinary care,” said Rachel Wolstenholme, Pinnacles Condor Program Manager.

Miracle was immediately brought to the Zoo, where the facility’s Condor Care Team examined and x-rayed her, then began treatment to remove the lead from her body.

“Despite such a high blood lead level, Miracle is feisty and alert,” said Dr. Andrea Goodnight, veterinarian at Oakland Zoo. “Hopefully, this rapid intervention will lead to rapid release back to the wild.”

Miracle will continue to be treated at the Zoo’s Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center for one to two weeks and will be released back into the wild in Big Sur when her lead levels are lowered through treatment, according to zoo officials.

Miracle was hatched, reared, and fledged without management or intervention, which is what inspired Ventana Wildlife Society officials to name her “Miracle.”

The public can check in on Miracle as she recovers via the FedEx Condor Cam: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Condor_Cam.php?cam=Oakland_Zoo

Lead from spent ammunition from hunting guns is the most significant problem threatening the endangered California condor, according to wildlife experts. Condors are scavengers and feed on carcass remains they find. Carcasses that are shot using lead ammunition may contain tiny fragments of lead, which are then eaten by the birds. “Hunting and ranching operations can be important sources of food for scavengers, such as condors, when carcass remains are left on the landscape,” said Rachel Wolstenholme, Pinnacles Condor Program Manager. “However, for these to be safe food resources, non-lead ammunition needs to be used.”

In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that phases out the use of lead ammunition for all hunting throughout California. However, the bill does not go into effect until 2019.

In 1987, the last wild California condor was taken into captivity to join the 26 remaining condors, in an attempt to bolster the population through a captive breeding program. Through the efforts of the California Condor Recovery Program, there are now about 232 California condors in the wild. The Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles National Park have made it a mission to save the bird from extinction by regularly trapping and treating condors suffering from lead poisoning. Prompt treatment has saved the lives of many condors. Condor nests are also monitored to ensure the greatest protection possible from potential threats.

The Oakland Zoo is a key partner in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California Condor Recovery Program. The multi-entity effort also includes the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, Ventana Wildlife Society, and Pinnacles National Park. The program is currently focusing its efforts on the captive-breeding and reintroduction of California condors to the wild with the ultimate goal of establishing a self-sustaining population.

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