toxicity has been identified as the leading
cause of death in condors in the Arizona
reintroduction program. At least fifteen condors have died of lead poisoning since 2000. Condors are trapped twice a year to have their blood
tested for lead. Biologists have documented over 300
instances of lead exposure in condors since
testing began in 1999, with 45 to 95 percent of the condor population testing positive for lead exposure each year. Chelation treatment is often required to reverse dangerously high
blood lead levels. Surgery has also been needed in the worst cases. Without these treatments more condors
likely would have died.
Although there may be other sources
of lead, a scientific study funded
by the Arizona Game and Fish Department
has identified lead from spent ammunition
as the major source of lead in condors.
Background lead from the environment
does not appear to be a factor. An additional study has determined that condor lead exposure rates are highest during the fall hunting season in northern Arizona. This study also concluded that during this same time, condors spend forage heavily on the Kaibab Plateau. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is committed to reducing the amount of lead available to condors by encouraging sportsmen to take lead reduction actions when hunting in condor range.
incidentally ingest lead bullet fragments and shot remaining in game carcasses and gut piles.
Fragments from lead bullets or lead shot
have been found within the digestive tracts
of condors 22 times in Arizona. Lead
bullets fragment into hundreds of
pieces before they exit a game such as
a deer or coyote. Since condors are group
feeders, and only one or two lead fragments
or pellets can cause lead toxicity, one
animal carcass or gut pile containing lead
fragments or lead shot has the potential
to poison several condors.
How you can help
Arizona hunters have a long tradition of
wildlife conservation. Arizona Game and
Fish Department is asking for your help
in continuing this proud tradition. The
Department recently surveyed hunters and
ranchers about their thoughts on condor
management, and specifically the concern
over lead poisoning in condors. Hunters
and ranchers responded that they wanted
to help, but requested more information
on the topic. We responded by providing
the public with condor lead exposure data
and funding scientific studies to determine
the source of this lead. We're also engaged
in an extensive public education effort.
Now we're asking for your help. If you hunt
within condor range in Arizona (Game Management
Units 12A, 12B, 9, 10, 13A, and 13B), please
use non-lead ammunition.
High performance all-copper bullets are
now available in most rifle calibers. In
comparison to lead and copper-jacketed bullets,
all-copper bullets do not fragment and are
far less toxic. Scavengers like the condor
are less likely to ingest one large mushroomed
bullet versus many small bullet fragments
scattered throughout a carcass or gut pile.
Shotgun, pistol, and muzzleloader ammunition
are also available in high performing non-lead
alternatives. There are also non-lead alternatives
for hand-loaders. For a list of some manufacturers and available calibers of non-lead ammunition, click [PDF].
For a list of some non-lead ammunition retailers,
Since 2005, as part of an effort to reduce
lead exposure in condors, the Arizona Game
and Fish Department has provided free non-lead ammunition to big game hunters in Units
12A, 12B, 13A, and 13B (the areas condors frequent most during the hunting season).
Hunters have responded with an 80 to 90 percent participation rate since 2007. Thanks to
the efforts of these hunters the amount of lead available to condors has been reduced in Arizona. According to post-hunt
survey results, 93 percent of hunters
who used the non-lead ammunition said it
performed as well as or better than lead
bullets. In addition, 72 percent of all hunters
said they would recommend the 100% copper
bullets to other hunters. This free non-lead
ammunition program will continue as long as funding permits, thanks to the Heritage
Fund (state lottery revenue) and the Wildlife Conservation Fund (state gaming revenue).
If you cannot find non-lead ammunition or choose to use lead ammunition, there are still ways you can help
condors when hunting by removing ALL shot animals
(coyotes, small and big game) and gut
piles from the field.
sportsmen’s groups and agencies have
already joined efforts to help the condor.
Conservation Coalition has been formed
to promote voluntary lead reduction efforts
within condor range, including the use of
non-lead ammunition. If your sportsmen’s
group is interested in joining this coalition
and continuing the proud tradition of wildlife
conservation, please contact the Arizona
Game and Fish Department. Current local
coalition members include the Arizona
Deer Association, Arizona
Antelope Foundation, Arizona
Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, and
Arizona Chapter of the National
Wild Turkey Federation.
We hope that this program will mark the
beginning of a voluntary switch to non-lead
ammunition by Arizona hunters. Hunter
support is a key factor in bringing condors
back for all of us to enjoy.