A California condor captured on the Central Coast because it appeared to be sick was not only suffering from lead poisoning but also had been shot, animal experts said Friday.
Unable to eat on its own, the condor was under intensive care at the L.A. Zoo, and its prognosis was guarded, birds curator Susie Kasielke said.
X-rays taken at the zoo showed shotgun pellets embedded in its flesh, Kasielke said. Those wounds had healed over, and it could not be determined when they occurred.
It could also not be determined if the pellets were lead or steel, but the poisoning was probably caused by the bird ingesting spent lead ammunition in carcasses of animals that had been shot, Kasielke said.
Condors are carrion-eaters and such poisoning by lead ammunition has long been recognized as a problem. California requires hunters to use only non-lead ammunition in the condors' range. It is also illegal to shoot a condor.
California condors are an endangered species, and the federal government has been working for years to establish breeding populations in the wild after initially capturing the few remaining birds and increasing their numbers through breeding programs.
The ailing condor, a nearly 7-year-old dubbed No. 286, was a dominant member of a flock on the Central Coast until late January, when biologists from Pinnacles National Monument and the Ventana Wildlife Society noticed it was being pushed around by younger birds, the conservation society said.
Biologists began trying to capture the bird because the behavior indicated health problems, but were unable to do so until March 4.
Kasielke said that if the condor survives it would stay at the zoo for several weeks, but could be returned to the wild.