Fellows in the News

By 1982, the number of California condors in the wild had dwindled to 22, an entire species nearly wiped out by, among other threats, lead poisoning from hunters’ ammunition.

Though it was difficult to know for sure at the time because few condor carcasses were retrieved, researchers concluded that the big scavengers — whose wingspans can reach nine feet or more — were consuming lead fragments in the carrion that makes up their diet and rapidly dying off.

Thirty-one years and $60 million later, the state’s captive breeding program has brought the bird’s population to 424, more than half living in the wild. Yet the main cause of death and illness for the condors remains the same: lead poisoning from ammunition in felled game and “gut piles” left behind by hunters who clean the carcasses in the field.

Today there is little doubt that lead is the primary threat, according to scientists, advocates and conservationists, because captive-bred birds are equipped with radio transmitters, captured and tested annually. The National Rifle Association remains one of the few major groups to deny the connection.

To break the cycle, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) this month signed a ban on lead in hunting ammunition, making California the first state with such a law and settling a dispute that had been fought for decades. The ban will be phased in from 2015 to 2019.

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Also read a KQED article detailing Myra Finkelstein's toxicology work that supported the legislation.

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