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For Immediate Release, July 31, 2007

Conservation Groups Call on Arizona to Require
Lead-free Ammunition to Protect Endangered Condors
Lead Poisonings Are Leading Cause of Death for Grand Canyon’s Condors


Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Grand Canyon, (602) 253-8633, cell (602) 999-5790
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304, cell (928) 606-5850

PHOENIX, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and Arizona Zoological Society today requested that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission take immediate emergency action to prevent further lead poisonings of California condors in Arizona by amending state hunting regulations to require the use of non-lead ammunition.

“The commission must act immediately to protect Arizona ’s magnificent condors from further lead poisonings and to safeguard public health,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we want condors to survive, we must stop using ammunition that contaminates their food supply with toxic lead.”

Since the southwestern condor reintroduction program began in 1996, lead poisoning has been the leading cause of death for the Grand Canyon’s condors. At least 12 Arizona condors have died of lead poisoning, and increasing numbers of the wild condor population must periodically receive emergency treatment for lead poisoning to save their lives. In 2006 95% of all Arizona condors had lead exposure and 70% of the Arizona population was chelated. There have been almost 100 potentially lethal lead poisonings of condors requiring emergency treatment since 1992. Condor experts have concluded that as long as lead ammunition is used in the condor range, recovery of the species is unlikely.

“Condors, eagles and other birds of prey are a cherished part of the Grand Canyon experience and an important part of the ecosystem,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “Immediate conversion to non-lead ammunition is practical, affordable, and overdue.”

The science on lead ammunition as the source of lead poisoning condors is conclusive. Lead pellets and bullet fragments have been found in the digestive tracks of lead-poisoned condors, and condors have abrupt increases in blood-lead levels corresponding with feeding in deer-hunting areas on the Kaibab Plateau. In 2006, condor experts and toxicologists published a study titled “Ammunition is the Principal Source of Lead Accumulated by California Condors Re-Introduced to the Wild.”  Blood-lead levels of wild condors were tenfold higher than in captive-raised condors, and the lead isotope signature of commonly used ammunition exactly matched the isotope of the lead found in poisoned condors in California.

“Lead is an extremely toxic substance that we have sensibly removed from most of our environment, including water pipes, gasoline, paint, and cooking utensils,” said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “It only makes sense to remove it from bullets too.”

Ingestion of lead ammunition fragments also threatens other avian scavengers in Arizona such as bald and golden eagles. Lead ammunition also poses a human health risk, particularly to hunters that handle or inhale lead from ammunition, or eat meat from game tainted with lead ammunition fragments. In a recent study of deer killed by hunters, X-rays revealed that lead bullets exploded into dozens of tiny pieces, and half the deer carcasses were riddled with at least 100 lead fragments.

“The Phoenix Zoo has treated more than 20 condors that ingested toxic lead, and we will continue to treat poisoned condors, but it should not be necessary,” said Jeff Williamson, president of the Arizona Zoological Society. “Condors are a rare national treasure, and eliminating lead from their food source will help conserve these remarkable birds for future generations.”

For the past two years the Arizona Game and Fish Department has conducted a very well-received, voluntary lead-reduction program and hunter education campaign, including free distribution of non-lead ammunition to hunters in the condor range. Although 65 percent of eligible hunters used the non-lead ammunition in 2005 and 60 percent did so in 2006, the increasing number of condor poisonings shows that voluntary lead-reduction efforts in Arizona are not enough to remove the lead threat.

Although southwestern condors were reintroduced as an experimental population, the commission has the authority to implement hunting regulations and is required under the federal Endangered Species Act to prevent death, injury, or harm to condors from lead poisoning. Killing or injuring condors in the experimental population is prohibited except where it is unavoidable and unintentional. Lead poisoning of condors from ammunition is avoidable, since safe, reliable non-lead bullets and shot that are not toxic to condors are available for big-game hunting, and perform as well or better than lead ammunition. The use of non-lead ammunition would not restrict hunting in Arizona, and conservation groups agree that ammunition regulations should be tailored to minimize adverse consequences for the state’s hunters.

A coalition of conservation, American Indian and health organizations, as well as individual hunters, petitioned and filed litigation to change hunting regulations in California to protect condors, and that state’s assembly passed Assembly Bill 821 in May, requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting in the condor range in southern California by January 1, 2008. The California State Senate is currently considering the bill. The California Fish and Game Commission also recently proposed amendments to California’s hunting regulations to require non-lead ammunition.


More information about the lead poisoning threat can be found at .

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Grand Canyon Wildlands Council is a nonprofit organization devoted to the protection and restoration of all native species in natural patterns of abundance and distribution throughout northern Arizona, southern Utah, and west-central New Mexico.

The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Inspired by nature, the Sierra Club’s nearly 800,000 members — including 14,000 in Arizona — work together to protect our communities and the planet.

The Arizona Zoological Society operates the Phoenix Zoo and participates in over 30 conservation initiatives through out the arid Southwest and New Mexico. The Arizona Zoological Society endeavors to inspire people to live in ways that provide for the wellbeing of the natural world.

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