Saving the California Condor

Back in 1987, the California condor was considered to be extinct in the wild, with only twenty-seven birds remaining in captivity. Now, thanks to conservation and breeding projects, America’s largest flying bird is making a comeback, and today there are a recorded number of 394 California condors in the US, with 181 of those being out in the wild.

Michael Mace of San Diego Zoo and Safari Park has noted that, all being well, a count of 400 should be reached by the end of the breeding season, a number that has not been recorded since the 1930s. It is also hoped that the wild population of California condor will reach 200 by the end of the year – with some human intervention to counteract a man-made problem. Condor’s feed on marine animal carcasses, but due to the run-off of DDT into the oceans, where it breaks down into a chemical known as DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and is absorbed by marine life, the birds land up eating the harmful chemical, resulting in weakened egg shells. To overcome this, conservationists replace the thin-shelled eggs with eggs that have been laid by captive birds, and these eggs are hatched naturally by the wild birds. The weakened eggs are then placed in incubators to hatch under the watchful eye of researchers. Although DDT has been banned in the US, it is still used in neighboring countries, entering rivers that run off into the ocean, creating a problem beyond the control of US authorities.

The natural habitat of the California condor is wooded mountains and scrublands. The birds have been reintroduced into the wilderness areas of California and Arizona. As scavengers that feed on dead carcasses, these huge birds are not fussy about what they eat and will tuck into rodents, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep or fish. However, when the birds feed on animals that have been killed with buckshot, it results in lead poisoning.

Despite the obstacles, conservationists are confident that their efforts are worthwhile. There are currently four breeding centers involved in the hatching of California condor eggs – the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, and the Oregon Zoo in Portland – with a satisfying degree of success.