Elevated lead in the tissues of raptors, especially those that scavenge, is a common occurrence, and lead poisoning appears to be a significant problem in the ongoing recovery effort for California condors (Gymnogyps californianus). Elevated blood lead levels have been found in released birds, and a number of birds have died of lead poisoning. In earlier work, we dosed turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) with lead shot but found them to be a poor model for lead poisoning. In this study, we dosed four Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) with lead shot and found them to be quite sensitive, as two of the birds died and the other two exhibit signs of lead poisoning within 50 days. All lead-responsive parameters were affected, and regurgitation of dosed shot occurred only once. The response of the Andean condors appeared to mimic California condors, suggesting that once exposed to lead, the possibility of survival is poor. This is consistent with observations in the wild, where otherwise healthy birds exposed to metallic lead quickly succumb. At the very least, the release program has to maintain constant surveillance and an active lead monitoring program.
Additional publication details
Lead poisoning in captive Andean condors (Vultur gryphus)