California condors are slowly returning, but a major obstacle to the survival of that and other carrion eaters is the continued prevalence of lead bullets used for hunting.
The Yurok Tribe in California will sponsor a seminar, “Alternatives to Lead,” on Thursday September 5 at the Sequoia Park Zoo to educate the public about non-lead ammunition. The 30-minute presentation will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer period. The event will also include an ammo trade-in so hunters can ditch their lead ammunition and reloading bullets in return for copper ammunition, the tribe said in a press release.
Part of the tribe’s Hunters as Stewards Campaign, the event will contribute to the push to remove toxic lead from the ecosystem on behalf of all scavenging animals, the Yurok release said.
“When presented with accurate information and shown how well non-lead ammunition performs, most hunters decide to give it a try in an effort to clean up the food on their dinner table and the environment,” said Mike Palermo, who is a biologist for the Yurok Tribe Wildlife Program and an avid hunter. “We invite hunters to bring their lead ammunition and bullets for exchange, and their most difficult questions about lead and non-lead ammo to the free event.”
Lead bullets in carrion is a constant health problem for the condor and other scavenging birds, including eagles. Lead poisoning is the worst health problem facing condors, and “spent ammunition is the primary source of lead exposure in condors,” according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Although there have been pushes in the past to ban lead bullets, the Yurok does not support such legislation, preferring to trust that hunters, “if provided with the most accurate information about the ill-health effects of lead to their families and the food web, will voluntarily switch to non-toxic ammo,” the Yurok said.
Condors ingest a large portion of their diet from piles of offal from large game left by hunters, but the meat from the elk, deer and bear that are harvested for human consumption can also become contaminated enough to harm people, the Yurok pointed out. And it inhibits efforts to reintroduce the condor in particular. Copper is harder than lead and expands rather than fragments when it hits an animal, the statement noted. Thus it does not leach into the animal’s flesh. More information about using non-lead bullets can be found at the website Hunting With Non-Lead Ammunition.
“Lead in animal remains poses the largest limiting factor to restoring the bird’s population in the Pacific Northwest, but is likely impacting many other scavenging animals in negative ways as well,” the Yurok statement said. “Hunting and hunters are both essential players in putting the California condor puzzle back together.”