HomeOutdoorsNewsPoached Elk Threaten California’s Recovering Condor Population

Poached Elk Threaten California’s Recovering Condor Population

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images)

A recent bout of poaching is threatening the California Condor population in the Western United States. These poaching incidents involve the illegal harvesting of elk, however, these animal carcasses are left in the areas. As a result, these poached animals are attracting birds of prey – such as the recently recovering California condor population. The danger comes in when the birds feast on the meat that is infected with lead from the ammunition. This creates irreversible health issues in these larger birds.

Authorities Are Investigating Two Poaching Cases In Areas Frequented By Condors Via A Recent Reintroduction Program

According to reports, wildlife officials are investigating two specific cases where elk were illegally hunted recently. These carcasses were discovered in areas that are frequented by condors. These condors are part of a tribal reintroduction program aimed to reinvigorate the population which was facing threat for a number of years.

“They weren’t right there,” notes Yurok Wildlife Department Manager Chris West of the elk’s location.

“But for a condor taking flight it would have been minutes for any of them to get to the carcasses if they had wanted to,” West adds. At least one of the recently discovered elk carcasses contained enough lead from the ammunition to kill several condors. A grave concern since these birds of prey often feasts on dead animals.

Even A Small Piece Of Lead Can Poison A Condor

According to West, even a small piece of lead ammunition is enough to poison a condor. These birds are already at a greater risk for these poisons since they feed on the very same game that people often hunt. And, one bullet can infect an entire body with lead poisoning, the expert notes.

According to West, when an animal, like the elk, is shot with a lead bullet, it breaks apart. From there, these fragments can spread throughout the animal’s body. Poachers often work quickly to avoid authorities after harvesting the elk. As a result, much of the animal’s carcass is left behind after bothering. Including parts with the lead still in them.

It was this very issue that contributed to the condors becoming instinct in these areas during the 1980s. Lead ammunition along with habitat destruction – and other environmental toxins, of course – created deadly scenarios for the massive birds. Since then, however, dedicated efforts, captive breeding, and release programs have repopulated these areas. By 2020 there were as many as 200 wild California condors flying in the area.

“It’s difficult though,” West says. “When you’re talking about a fringe category of poachers out there.”

West adds that these are people who are “not lawfully hunting,” so they “don’t really care” about the laws or guidelines.

“People that maybe don’t really care about the laws, maybe don’t care as much about the wild communities that they’re harvesting from,” he explains.