California condors were nearly extinct by the 1980s. Thanks to habitat loss, wanton shooting, egg collecting, and the scavenger's propensity for eating animal carcasses tainted by lead bullet fragments, fewer than 30 remained. After decades of captive breeding, about 200 condors now fly free in central California, Utah, Arizona and Mexico. But death by lead poisoning remains a significant threat, preventing condor populations from flourishing without human intervention ("Getting the lead out," HCN, 5/5/07).
On Oct. 11, California became the first state to ban lead ammunition for hunting, expanding a partial lead-ammo restriction in the bird's range. But the controversial rules won't fully go into effect until July 2019. The ban comes as the Los Angeles Zoo treated 21 condors for lead poisoning in October, a record high. Meanwhile, Utah and Arizona are trying to get the lead out with voluntary incentive programs for hunters.