Getting the lead out of condor country

New regulation takes effect to reduce lead poisoning in endangered California condors

(06/30/2008) -

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A new regulation goes into effect tomorrow requiring hunters to use only non-lead ammunition when in the endangered California condor’s habitat. The California Legislature passed the historic measure last year to keep condors from becoming poisoned after swallowing lead bullets or bullet fragments when they feed on animal carcasses that have been shot with this highly toxic ammunition.

“Efforts to bring the critically endangered California condor back from the brink of extinction have been severely hampered by the use of lead in ammunition,” said Pamela Flick, California program coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife. “We’ve known about the dangers of lead for decades. That’s why we keep it out of our homes and schools. Finally, we have taken steps to protect imperiled wildlife and the environment from this toxic substance.”

More than 276 cases of lead poisoning have been documented in California condors in the past eight years. And at least seven cases have appeared this spring, with one resulting in a death during treatment at the Los Angeles Zoo. While lead poisoning ranks as the leading cause of death among California condors, dozens more deaths not directly caused by poisoning are likely related to lead exposure.

In recent years, studies have shown increased levels of lead in many species of animals in condor habitat. The lead has even made a full circle – elevated levels of lead exposure have also been observed in humans who ate game killed with lead bullets or shot.

The new regulation covers the California condor’s current and historic range, encompassing the horseshoe-shaped region from Big Sur, south to Ventura and east through the southern Sierra Nevada. All hunting of big game, non-game mammals and non-game birds in the condor’s territory now requires the use of non-lead centerfire ammunition certified by the California Fish and Game Commission. More information about the area covered by the ban and certified ammunition can be found at the Department of Fish and Game’s Web site.

“We are grateful that the Legislature and commission have taken this important action to protect one of California’s most important animals, the iconic condor, from lead poisoning and related deaths,” Flick said. “California’s dedication to educating hunters and keeping lead out of the environment will benefit wildlife and humans for generations to come.”  

Learn more about what Defenders is doing for California condors.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than one million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit



Pamela Flick, (916) 203-6927
Joe Vickless, (202) 772-0237