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New documentary focuses on link between California Condors and lead poisoning – what’s being done to recover this endangered species

BOISE, Idaho – Are you a hunter who wants to know more about the effects of lead on scavengers? Are you curious about how your actions can play the leading role to recover this critically endangered species?

A new documentary released today provides an in-depth look at The Peregrine Fund’s condor recovery effort in Arizona, with an emphasis on the link between lead ammunition and the frequency of illness and death in condors.

“Scavenger Hunt,” produced by Boise non-profit Wild Lens, features Chris Parish, who heads The Peregrine Fund’s field operations, and other employees as well as physicians, veterinarians, hunters, NRA representatives, and policymakers. Matthew Podolsky, who produced and directed the film, previously worked on the condor recovery project, gaining insight about the intricacies of captive breeding and the effort to monitor birds in the wild.

Parish said the film the film presents an opportunity for people to make lasting change by making well-informed decisions.

“This film is important for hunters and anyone else who cares about the future of conservation and hunting,” Parish said. “The key to preserving this magnificent species is understanding that the answer to the problem is as simple as switching to non-lead ammunition for taking game and varmints, or removing lead-tainted remains from the field.”

As viewers learn in the film, Parish and his crew of dedicated biologists and field workers must capture the 75 wild condors in the Arizona-Utah flock once or twice a year to test them for lead poisoning. In the past season, nearly half of the condors tested were treated with chelation therapy, which helps to eliminate lead from their bodies. In extreme cases, X-rays sometimes show that the poisoned birds still have fragments of lead in their digestive systems.

Peregrine Fund research has shown that lead bullets shatter into hundreds of particles when a bullet enters the body of a deer, elk, or other animal. Those fragments, most too tiny to be seen or felt, disperse through the animal’s internal organs and muscle tissue of the vitals, the target area. When gut piles containing those vital organs and whole carcasses are left in the field, condors and other scavenging animals, including eagles and ravens, can be poisoned by consuming the remains. When lead sickens the scavengers, they can become vulnerable to other causes of death, like predation.

“It’s been my experience that when hunters are asked if they would risk potential poisoning of eagles and condors from the small bits of lead left in the remains of harvested animals, the response is, ‘Absolutely not!’,” Parish said. “People just need to understand that the fragments are so small, yet so toxic.”

The Peregrine Fund works cooperatively with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, other state and federal agencies, and hunting and sportsmen groups to encourage the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition in northern Arizona and, more recently, in southern Utah. AGFD records show that 80-90 percent of hunters have voluntarily participated during the deer hunting seasons on the Kaibab Plateau for the past six years.

Parish said the situation is complicated by the fact that the condor flock now spends the majority of its time in southern Utah, so efforts there need to match efforts in Arizona. “This is the recognized goal,” he said.

Condors are social animals that sometimes feed in large groups, so several birds can be affected at one gut pile.

“All it takes is one lead-contaminated carcass, and we have the potential for sick and dying birds,” Parish said. “This is not a plot to strip hunters of their rights – this is an opportunity for hunters to demonstrate their strong conservation ethic.”

Podolsky said he began the film project with one simple goal: to convince hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition.

“While we were shooting video, what had started as a small local issue exploded into a national political debate,” Podolsky said. “We hope that this film will allow hunters to get the credit they deserve for helping protect one of the world’s most endangered bird species.”

Awards for “Scavenger Hunt” include:

  • Official selection, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
  • Honorable mention, Vegas Cine Fest International Film Festival
  • Finalist, International Wildlife Film Festival
  • Special jury prize, Yosemite International Film Festival

Visit the website and watch the trailer here: Scavenger Hunt film

The 56-minute video may be purchased from the distributor Cinema Libre and Amazon.
Scavenger Hunt DVD

Scavenger Hunt Film on Facebook

Wild Lens Inc on Twitter


The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 to restore the Peregrine Falcon, which was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. That success encouraged the organization to expand its focus and apply its experience and understanding to raptor conservation efforts on behalf of 102 species in 65 countries worldwide, including the California Condor and Aplomado Falcon in the United States. The organization is non-political, solution-oriented and hands-on, with a mission to:

  • Restore rare species through captive breeding and releases.
  • Improve capacity for local conservation.
  • Conduct scientific research and environmental education.
  • Conserve habitat.

For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner
Director of Global Engagement
Main Phone:     208-362-3716
Direct Phone:     208-362-8277

Additional contact

Susan Whaley, public relations coordinator
(208) 362-8274

Chris Parish, condor project director
(928) 606-5155