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SALT LAKE CITY — Hunters choosing to use non-lead ammunition may have contributed to the lowest number of California condors being treated for lead poisoning since 2005, the Division of Wildlife Resources announced.
Between Sept. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014, 13 condors were treated for lead poisoning, half of the average over the past five years, the DWR said in a release.
From September 2012 to August 2013, 28 birds were treated for lead poisoning, and the year also saw the worst death toll since the species was rescued from extinction in the 1990s, the condor recovery program director said that year.
DWR lauded southern Utah and northern Arizona hunters for their efforts to use non-lead ammunition, which is believed to be the cause of the poisoning. Condors are scavengers, eating dead animals and often entrails left behind by hunters, which could contain lead ammunition.
As of 2013, 55 percent of hunters in the Zion hunting unit used non-lead ammunition or disposed of entrails outside of the area if they used lead. The non-lead program began in 2010, offering incentives to turn in entrails that contained lead bullets, as well as a free box of non-lead ammunition.
"This is potentially exciting news," said Chris Parish, project director with The Peregrine Fund. "We're hopeful that the decreased measurements of lead exposure are a direct result of the hunters' actions. With continued effort, we may well see a continuing trend of lower lead levels in coming years."
The birds are an endangered species, and about 70 condors live in the wilderness of Arizona and Utah, according to the National Parks Service.
In the 1980s, the 22 living condors were taken into captivity in an effort to protect and breed the bird. The birds were released throughout the 1990s, and earlier this year, the first condor chick was born in the wild since they were released.