• Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

A number of poached moose are threatening the recovering California condor population

ByPatricia S. Stevens

Nov 24, 2022

Authorities are investigating two cases of moose killed illegally this month. They have been found in areas frequented by condors recently released as part of a tribal reintroduction program. Two moose were found on November 11th and another was spotted on the 19th.

One of the carcasses contained enough lead from the ammunition to kill several condors feeding on dead animals.

“They weren’t right there,” says Chris West, director of Yurok’s wildlife department. “But for a flying condor, it would have taken any of them minutes to get to the carcasses if they wanted to.”

West says it takes a very small piece of lead to poison a condor. And they’re at greater risk than other scavengers because they feed on the same animals that many humans hunt.

West says when an animal is shot with a lead bullet, the projectile breaks up and can spread throughout the body. Because poachers often work quickly to avoid capture, they often leave much of the carcass behind when they slaughter, including parts of the animal with lead still inside.

The use of lead ammunition — along with habitat destruction and other environmental toxins — helped condors become extinct in the wild by the 1980s. Since then, captive breeding programs have allowed condors to be released back into the wild. Nearly 200 condors were flying free in California 2020.

West says lead remains a very big threat. Since condors were reintroduced in 1992, half of all deaths in the wild have been caused by lead poisoning.

Outside of moose hunting season, it has been illegal in California since 2019 to hunt with lead ammunition.

West says his agency has been successful in educating legal hunters about the environmental dangers of lead ammunition.

“It’s difficult when you’re dealing with a fringe group of poachers out there, though,” he says. “People who hunt illegally. People who might not really care about the laws might not care as much about the wild communities they harvest from.”

West hopes that as lead-free ammunition becomes the norm, there will be a trickle-down effect, and poachers — who might be trying to get as many bullets as possible — will use lead-free.

Officials from Redwood National and State Parks and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are investigating the two incidents to find those responsible.

Officials are asking for information to assist the case and to call Redwood National and State Parks Ranger Attendorn at 707-465-7789 or Game Warden Castillo at 707-673-3678.

The CDFW also has an anonymous hotline at 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258).