Get the Lead Out

2 condors perched on a rock
Condors 119 and 122 were some of the first condors reintroduced to Grand Canyon National Park in 1996.  Unfortunately,  119 died from lead poisoning in 2006, and 122 was shot in 2015.

NPS Chad Olson


Condors and Other Wildlife

Scientific studies have reached a consensus: lead poisoning is the biggest threat facing the successful recovery of the California condor.

Since 1996, 28 condors from the AZ/UT population have been confirmed or strongly suspected to have died after ingesting lead. Lead poisoning has been determined in over 50% of the diagnosed causes of death in reintroduced condors and is the leading cause of death for condors since their release in 1996. Condors are trapped twice a year to have their blood tested for lead. Biologists have documented over 300 instances of lead exposure in condors since testing began in 1999, with 45-95% of the condor population testing positive for lead exposure each year. When testing occurs, the majority of free-flying birds are measured with blood lead levels that are above what the Center for Disease Control recommends as the maximum threshold for human children.

Scientific studies have documented that the primary source of lead is from spent ammunition that remains in carcasses after they are shot. When a lead rifle bullet traveling at almost 3 times the speed of sound strikes animal tissue, it quickly begins to expand and loses hundreds of tiny pieces as it continues its journey. The entrails and areas that are trimmed away and left behind are often contaminated with these lead fragments. Because condors feed on carrion, are group feeders, and even small amounts of lead can sicken or kill a condor, condors are more frequently exposed to lead bullet hazards than most wildlife. Lead poisoning through ingestion of spent lead bullet and shell shot is also a serious factor for many other wildlife species including golden eagles, bald eagles, and turkey vultures.

Scientific studies pertaining to lead topics are available on Pinnacle's National Monument's website.

Bald Eagle_Lead Poisoning
Bald Eagle suffering the effects of lead poisoning.

Photo credit: Marge Gibson

Wildlife, Lead Free

Lead poisioning is not just a condor issue. Over 100 species of wildlife have been documented to be adversely affected by lead including turkey vultures, raptors (including golden eages and bald eagles), waterfowl, doves, and even bears. Common lead poisioning symptoms in birds include: anemia, weight loss, drooping wings, weakness, inability to fly, diarrhea, and death


Human Health Concerns

Studies are increasingly showing that lead fragments can also be found in wild game meat processed for human consumption, even though best attempts are made in the field to remove sections that are within the bullet wound channel.

A recent study that was conducted and will soon be published, examined the prevalence of lead bullet fragments in packaged venison. Thirty different white-tailed deer were harvested using lead rifle bullets and then given to 30 different game meat processors, with the instructions of processing the animals using customary practices and providing the researchers packages containing steaks and ground meat. These packages were then randomly selected and x-rayed to see how many contained lead bullet fragments. Of the 324 randomly selected packages of ground venison, 34% contained metal fragments; some packages contained as many a 168 separate pieces. Further analysis positively identified the metal as 93% lead and 7 % copper. This demonstrates that while the results are preliminary and much further study needs to be done to better assess risks to humans, it appears that the if lead bullets are used, odds are high that you will ingest lead particles in ground meat.


How YOU can help

You can help the California condors as well as many other widlife species by engaging in the lead reduction effort. If you hunt, hunt with ammunition that is non-lead. Whether you are in condor country or thousands of miles away, using non-lead ammunition will help prevent many different species of wildlife from dying of lead poisoning. If you do not hunt, but know people who hunt, educate them about the negative effects of lead ammunition. Educate others by using the information and links on this website including the scientific studies, the list of non-lead ammunition brands, or by simply informing them that it is healthier for them and their family to use non-lead ammunition. Even if you do not use non-lead ammunition or shoose to use lead ammunition, there are still ways you can help condors and other wildlife when hunting by removing ALL shot animals (coyotes, small and big game) and gut piles from the field.

Last updated: September 9, 2021

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PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



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