Press Release Archive
Feb 7 2006 - Two California Condors Recovering At Phoenix Zoo
Contact: Aimee Yamamori, Director of Media and Public Relations, Phoenix Zoo
(602) 914-4305 or pager (602) 223-8222
Date: February 7, 2006
TWO CALIFORNIA CONDORS RECOVERING AT PHOENIX ZOO
The Phoenix Zoo, in an effort to support the preservation of one of the world's most endangered species, is currently treating two California condors for potentially deadly lead poisoning. If the treatment is successful, the birds will be returned to the wild.
The 3-year-old male condor arrived on January 26, and 9-year-old female came to the Zoo February 6, 2006, from the Vermilion Cliffs area of Arizona. The Zoo is a designated treatment facility for the California condor, a critically endangered species. Currently, only 273 California condors are left in the world.
The Phoenix Zoo works with many cooperators including US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Dept, The Peregrine Fund, San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and Grand Canyon National Park to treat ailing condors so they can be re-released back in to the wild.
Lead poisoning occurs when the condors eat the carcasses of animals that have been shot with lead bullets or lead shot. A healthy condor will have no trace of lead in its bloodstream, while a poisoned animal's levels can be as high as 900 micrograms/dl. This level of lead would kill a bald eagle, but condors appear to be more tolerant, and can often survive long enough for the biologists to catch them for treatment. If they are not captured and treated, they are likely to die from lead poisoning.
Injections of calcium versenate (Metamucil) are given twice daily to poisoned condors to chelate the lead so it can be excreted from the blood and tissues. Condors can be treated by biologists at the release site, but if x-rays reveal lead in their stomachs, or if they appear very ill, they are brought to the Phoenix Zoo for supportive care.
Both of these birds came to the Zoo with crop stasis, which means the food in their crops is not being digested further because of the poisoning. The crop of birds is a modification of the esophagus used primarily for storage and softening of food. The male bird did require surgery to clean out his crop and the female might also need surgery when her lead levels decrease.
In 1982, only 22 individual California condors existed in the wild. The decline of the condor in recent years has been attributed mainly to human activities such as shootings, poisoning or collisions with power lines. The California condor is now protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty and Endangered Species Act. Condors are now only found in California and Arizona in the United States and in Baja California, Mexico. Currently, there are 59 birds in the wild population in Arizona.
California condors are vultures. Like all vultures, they feed on carrion and prefer large dead animals like deer, cattle, and sheep, but they also eat rodents, rabbits, and even fish. They don't have a good sense of smell like turkey vultures, so they find their food mostly by their keen eyesight. These large birds gorge themselves on two to three pounds of food at a time, and can then go without food for several days until they find another carcass.
Condors can weigh as much as 26 pounds and may have a wing span up to ten feet. California condors have few natural predators, and can be a bold and curious bird. For information about the milestones in the California Condor conservation program go to: http://cres.sandiegozoo.org/projects/sp_condors_milestones.html . The Peregrine Fund website also has information about the Condor release program in Arizona: www.peregrinefund.org.
For more information about the Phoenix Zoo or its conservation programs, go to www.phoenixzoo.org or call 602-273-1341. The Phoenix Zoo is a private non profit zoological park.