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Dead Condor Found Near Tehachapi

California condor | Photo: slobirdr/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Emergency response groups training during an earthquake preparedness event discovered a dead California condor near the Tehachapi Mountains town of Bear Valley Springs, a local website is reporting.

The condor was found floating in a tank used to supply water to firefighting helicopters at around 10:40 Thursday morning. Though the condor was tagged (with the number 30), it is not currently known how long the bird had been in the tank.

The bird was discovered by a crew from the Bear Valley Springs emergency Operations Center, which was taking part in the "Great Shakeout" earthquake preparedness drill. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists from the Hopper Mountain Condor Sanctuary in Ventura County retrieved the condor and are examining it for clues as to the cause of death.

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Extinct in the wild since 1987, California condors have been the focus of a very expensive captive breeding project designed to restore their numbers and release them to the wild. Of 134 free-flying condors known to exist in California in March of this year, about half live in the Tehachapi Mountains -- presumably including the now-deceased Number 30.

One possibility that may underlie the death is lead toxicity. Condors are especially susceptible to lead poisoning from lead ammunition found in hunters' kills. It's just that wildlife toxicity that led the California legislature to ban hunters' lead ammunition throughout California this year, a law that Governor Jerry Brown signed a week ago today.

Excessive thirst is a common symptom of lead poisoning, as is weakness. A condor suffering both those symptoms may well have been drawn to a water tank and then found itself too weak to get out.

But conclusive results must await the results of USFWS's forensic exam. Until then, all we know is that there's one less California condor darkening the skies over the Tehachapi Mountains.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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