On October 11, California became the first state to ban lead in hunting ammunition. “Lead poses a danger to wildlife,” said California Governor Jerry Brown in a signing message. “This danger has been known for a long time.” The ban will help to protect a number of mammal and bird species, including the endangered California Condor.
The California Condor nearly went extinct in the 1980s – by 1982, their population had dwindled to twenty-two. Thanks to a successful captive breeding program, that number has increased to 424, but lead from ammunition remains a major threat to their recovery.
Lead is extremely toxic to wildlife, and one of the leading causes of death for California Condors. Condors feed largely on mammal carcasses; when they eat carcasses shot with lead bullets, they risk lead poisoning. A 2006 study found that condors foraging in the wild had nearly ten times the amount of lead in their blood compared to their captive-fed counterparts. Without eliminating this risk, condors are unlikely to establish a thriving, self-sustaining population. “The data is overwhelming that lead is an important cause of mortality in condors, said Christine Johnson, a wildlife health and epidemiology researcher from the University of California, Davis. “As long as there’s lead in the landscape, condors are going to be exposed to it,” she said.
The ban will gradually fade out lead ammunition, beginning in 2015. In the meantime, proponents of the ban hope that other states will follow California’s example. According to Myra Finkelstein, a wildlife toxicologist at the University of Santa Cruz, “moving forward and reducing lead exposure is only going to benefit human and animal health, and hopefully, California can lead the way.”