Toxicology tests released Thursday show that one of the first two endangered California condors returned to the wild died of alcohol poisoning after drinking from a puddle of auto antifreeze.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said tests show that Chocuyens, a 15-month-old male released in January, was poisoned by ethylene glycol after drinking from a puddle of sweet, syrupy antifreeze near the Pyramid Lake dam in Southern California's Angeles National Forest.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman David Klinger said tests show the condor probably died of acute kidney failure within four to six hours after drinking the antifreeze.
Laboratory tests performed in a University of Illinois laboratory also showed that traces of propylene glycol, another syrupy liquid used in antifreeze solutions, also were found in the kidney tissue samples of the dead condor.
Officials, who track the birds daily, found it dead on a rocky ledge near the dam Oct. 8.
Klinger said the big vultures are naturally curious and are attracted to high recreational use areas where tourists park their cars.
'This has injected a great deal of caution into the program,' Klinger said. 'This is a threat we have not seen before. We're certainly going to want to redouble our efforts to monitor the birds in parking areas and high recreation areas.'
Before Chocuyen's death, biologists had been more worried about the threat of lead. The bird had been tested for lead content several weeks before its death, but showed negligible levels of the substance.
Klinger said it will be virtually impossible, though, to eliminate the threat caused by antifreeze since the Angeles National Forest includes 'hundreds of cars parked across thousands of acres.'
Officials are continuing to monitor three other condors, including a female California condor and two Andean condors that were released into the wild with Chocuyens as the first birds released in a $15 million captive breeding and re-introduction program.
'In 1991, we said we were taking a gamble,' Klinger said. 'We even had a scare with one of the female condors when somebody took a potshot at it, but didn't hit it. It's an unpristine environment with a whole host of human-caused threats. We're still willing to take those risks.'
Klinger said the condor's death will not likely affect the release of six additional California condors into the wild next month.
Those six birds are currently living in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the nearby Arundell Cliffs, where they are being acclimated to the wild.
The remaining 56 California condors live at the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos, where the captive breeding program saved them from extinction.