The Humane Society, Audubon California and Defenders of Wildlife are pushing for California to become the first state to ban lead ammunition for all types of hunting to protect California condors and other wild animals.

In 2008, the state banned lead ammunition for hunting in the California condor’s historic range, which runs roughly from Los Angeles to San Jose, but the groups believe that a wider ban is necessary to prevent condors and other birds, such as bald eagles and vultures, from dying as a result of lead poisoning after eating animals that are shot by hunters.

When hunters leave carcasses or gut piles, they may contain lead shot pellets or bullet fragments. Scavengers who pick at the piles can develop lead poisoning, which can cause inability to fly, anemia, blindness, seizures, starvation and death.

“Countless wild animals suffer and die needlessly every year from the continued use of lead ammunition,” said Jennifer Fearing, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “It is put in the environment and stays there. It’s toxic, and it’s cumulative.”

The California condor population was reduced to 22 birds by 1982, with the last wild condor brought into captivity in 1987. Captive breeding efforts have been very successful since they began in the 1980s and have boosted the population to around 400 birds who are now in the wild and in breeding programs.

Unfortunately, while the population has grown, condors still face the threat of exposure to toxic levels of lead and require a lot interference from people to keep them from disappearing from the landscape yet again. We’re now breeding them, releasing them, recapturing them, treating them for lead poisoning and releasing them again hoping they survive.

Last year a review of more than 1,154 blood samples taken from wild condors and tested between 1997 and 2010 found that 48 percent of the birds had levels of lead in their bodies that would have killed them without treatment in animal hospitals, reports Mercury News.

Some hunters are supportive of the move to ban lead ammunition and are voluntarily making the switch, but the NRA and others are balking at the idea, claiming that this is somehow an attempt to ban hunting altogether and arguing that there is a lack of evidence to support a ban.

However, studies at the University of California, Davis that were funded by the California Department of Fish and Game have found evidence that lead from ammunition often makes its way into carrion-eating birds and that bans on lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl and in condor habitat were effective in reducing lead exposure. An additional study conducted in 2012 matched isotope ratios found in bullets to those found in birds.

“We’re not against hunting,” said Dan Taylor, public policy director for Audubon California. “But hunting is a privilege. For hunting to continue in a state like California it must be done in the most ecologically and sound way possible.”

Watch Condors and Lead on PBS. See more from Oregon Field Guide.

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