$40,000+ Reward Offered in California Condor Poaching Incidents

$40,000+ Reward Offered in California Condor Poaching Incidents

Alisa Opar
Published: 04/15/2009

 Condor #286, dubbed "Pinns" because he's one of the oldest condors released at Pinnacles National Monument, was rescued by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists. He'd been shot and was suffering from lead poisoning. Courtesy Ventana Wildlife Society.

Two California condors were shot and wounded last month near Big Sur, and the shooter hasn’t been found yet. Hoping to loosen tongues and garner information that will help crack the case, groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the United States, have put up a combined reward of $40,500, reports the LA Times. Meanwhile, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are searching for the culprit (or culprits), and the CBD has hired a private investigator to help solve the crime.

In early March, biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society, based in Monterey, found the first critically endangered bird, an adult male riddled with lead shotgun pellets. Three weeks later they found a juvenile female condor in the same area with lead shotgun pellets in her wing and thigh.

California condors have just pulled back from the brink of extinction. Today, there are 322, 172 of which are currently in the wild, flying free in California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja, Mexico. As evidenced by the two wounded birds, though, they aren’t in the clear yet. In fact, in addition to sustaining gunshot wounds, both animals were suffering from lead poisoning—not from the pellets they’d been hit with, but likely from bullet fragments in carcasses they fed on.

A law passed in 2007 aims to prevent that from happening: It prohibits hunters from using lead ammunition within the animal’s nearly 2,400-square-mile territory. While there’s obviously some lead ammo still in use, Audubon reporter Katherine Tweed noted in a recent blog post that the California Department of Fish and Game has reported that 99 percent of hunters in the state are following the regulation and loading lead-free bullets, though no data is available yet on how it’s impacting the birds.

As for the two wounded condors, they are recuperating at the Los Angeles Zoo. The male, #286, is in critical condition after being hit with 15 buckshot pellets (see photos below - courtesy Ventana Wildlife Society); his digestive system is debilitated due to lead poisoning and veterinarians must feed him through a tube. The second condor, #375, is in better condition, but the pellet injured her left wing and it’s unclear whether she will be able to fly; she was hit by a total of three pellets.

The LA Times reports that agency officials are not working with the private investigator, Bruce Robertson. "We are not working together, and he is not working with us," Dan Crum, [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's resident agent for Northern California and lead investigator], said Thursday. "When it comes to things like reading our case reports, absolutely not.”

"On the other hand," Crum added, "if he digs up something good, we'll take what we can get."

Can’t we all just get along?

Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call the California Department of Fish and Game TIP line at (888) 334-2258. To learn about Audubon’s efforts to protect the California condor, click here.