Zion condor raising new chick dies; lead poisoning suspected

A condor sits in a rock crevice guarding its nest at Zion National Park, June 15, 2016 | Photo courtesy of National Park Service, St. George News

ZION NATIONAL PARK — A 16-year-old male condor who was raising a young chick with his partner in Zion National Park has died.

Condor program personnel monitoring a pair of the birds at Zion verified the presence of a chick, but noticed last week that the older male, Condor 337, was exhibiting odd behavior.

Biologists from The Peregrine Fund, the non-profit conservation group responsible for releasing and monitoring condors, noticed that instead of routinely traveling to the feeding grounds to find food for his family, Condor 337 had become sedentary.

The biologists went to his location to take a closer look and found him sick and in need of care.

Initial assessments after capture revealed the condor was lethargic, dehydrated and severely emaciated. A field blood test revealed elevated levels of lead in the bloodstream. The bird was given supportive care, fluids and chelation treatment to help reduce dangerously high lead levels.

Despite best efforts to stabilize his condition, Condor 337 died the next day. Authorities from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were notified and the body is being transferred to pathologists who will determine cause of death.

Chick appears healthy

Meanwhile, biologists are monitoring the chick and its mother to determine whether or not they might be in danger, but so far they appear healthy. The chick is estimated to be old enough to maintain body temperature and that may allow the female to find enough food to feed them both.

Cooperating agencies, including The Peregrine Fund, Zion National Park, Utah Division of Wildlife resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are hoping this will be the first condor chick hatched in Utah to join the wild population.

Lead poisoning in condors

Lead poisoning is the leading cause of diagnosed death for condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

Programs are in place to reduce the presence of lead from big-game hunting in the fall. The current lead poisoning case, however, occurred during summer and it highlights the little-known fact that gun-killed animals other than deer and elk can poison condors. Lead used to dispatch any animal, domestic or wild, whose remains might be left in the field can poison scavengers.

Officials are asking for the public’s support in using non-lead ammunition to kill domestic stock, harvest game animals, or when shooting varmints or small game. An alternative is to simply remove the remains of animals shot with lead-based ammunition from the field.

The Utah Division of Wildlife offers coupons for free non-lead ammunition.

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