California condors came to the brink of extinction in the 1980s, largely from eating game felled by toxic lead bullets. A recovery effort has proved successful, but attempts to bring condors back into the wild have been frustrated by the birds’ continuing poisoned-carrion habit. More than one-third of condors released into the wild in California over the past two decades have died; last year, 14 birds were released, and half perished. The birds’ undiscerning palates — or, rather, the continuing use of lead in ammunition — is the most persistent threat to full recovery, say biologists, who currently use public funding to collect stillborn calves from dairy farmers and put them out as condor food. The California legislature passed a bill this summer that would ban lead bullets in condor habitat, against vehement opposition from the hunting lobby; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not indicated whether he’ll sign it.

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