One of the last 300 California Condors died this week, the victim of lead poisoning. No, condor #245 (as it was affectionately known) didn't play with any Chinese-made toys, but it did in all likelihood eat lead bullet fragments after feasting on a big-game carcass.

Poisoning from lead ammunition is one of the top threats to the California Condor, a critically endangered species which numbered just 22 individuals two decades ago. When captured last month for treatment, condor #245's blood had 50 times the level of lead that would require emergency action for a human child. It would take direct ingestion of lead to create levels that high and that toxic.

A process called chelation can detoxify a contaminated condor, but it is expensive and painful -- and as we saw this week, it is hardly foolproof.

Last month, more than 45 top scientists and biologists signed a "Statement of Scientific Agreement" arguing that the continued use of lead ammunition threatens the survival of the California Condor in the wild. Next week, the California Fish and Game Commission will hold a special session in Sacramento to consider a ban on lead ammunition for big-game hunting in areas known to be condor habitats.

Cross your fingers.

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in August 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007