Catch and Release: The Mission to Save the California Condor

To protect North America’s largest bird, Chris Parish and his crew must trap and treat the scavengers for lead poisoning.

Last year Chris Parish’s crew captured 70 or so California Condors in Arizona and Utah. Parish, condor project director for the Peregrine Fund, is testing the enormous scavengers for lead poisoning; they risk ingesting deadly amounts of the heavy metal from fragments of ammunition in carcasses they feed on. Twenty of the captured birds received chelation therapy, and all were ultimately released back into remote wilderness in the two states, where Parish has helped to successfully reestablish a population over the last two decades.

A hunter and conservationist, Parish has a particular affinity for condors, which clean up the remains left by hunters and predators. “They have unique personalities,” he says. “Each 
is an individual.” The species almost blinked out three decades ago due to habitat loss, hunting, DDT contamination, and, above all, lead poisoning.

Today there are 410 in all, up from 23 in 1982. Up to 80 percent of hunters in Arizona and Utah have volunteered to stop using lead ammunition or to remove lead bullets from carcasses, thanks in part to Parish’s work raising awareness of the condor’s plight. Condors aren’t yet out of danger, but Parish is dedicated to giving them the best shot possible at survival.