Condors back in captivity


The California condor is one bird big enough to complement the vast size of the Grand Canyon. But it will be a while before visitors see the endangered birds' huge soaring silhouettes again.

All of the Grand Canyon condors, whose reintroduction began in 1996, were recaptured this summer after lead poisoning wiped out four in just a few months. A fifth bird is believed dead.

"Before this, we've had nine deaths in three and a half years, and they've been spread out," says Jeff Cilek, vice president of the nonprofit Peregrine Fund, the group that has financed the reintroduction. "Coyotes got a couple, a power line got one and golden eagles got a couple."

He believes the scavenging birds ingested lead pellets from the carcass of an animal killed with a shotgun. Seventeen pellets were found in the digestive tract of one. "They were just out there doing what they needed to survive, and it killed them," he says.

All but two of the 16 remaining condors were treated for varying levels of lead poisoning, Cilek says. They will remain in captivity while officials try to track down the lead source.

"This is a setback. But when you are recovering endangered species, you have setbacks," Cilek says. "We're in uncharted waters here."

There are 171 California condors worldwide, including 32 in California, and the 16 survivors in Arizona.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Terri Likens

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