A program aimed at restoring the endangered California condor to much of its historic range across the Southwest remains hampered by lead poisonings, shootings and predation but is making marked improvements in other areas, wildlife officials say.
A five-year review of the program released this week shows an increase in free-ranging condors and breeding pairs. But remnants of lead ammunition threaten the success of the program, which began in 1996, when the condors were nearly extinct.
The condors — North America’s largest land bird — feast on the carcasses of deer and coyotes that are left behind by hunters.
Agencies partnering in the reintroduction effort say they might have to reevaluate it if extreme lead exposure isn’t reduced by the end of 2016, and if condors keep dying from ingesting lead.
Chris Parish, head of the Peregrine Fund’s condor recovery program in Arizona, said wildlife officials don’t know yet whether it was enough to ban lead ammunition in the condor’s range in California and depend on the willingness of hunters in Arizona to give up lead ammunition, and a program that provides hunters in Utah with non-lead ammunition.