In the wake of the California condor recovery project
In 1987, there were 22 condors left in the United States. Today, there are 356. So how come the California condor is still one of the most endangered birds in the entire world?
Monday, November 16, 2009 - 14:39
CONDORS IN FLIGHT: A family of three California condors enjoys their release back into the wild. (Photo: Flickr/darkmatter)
In 1987, there were 22 California condors left in the United States. Today, there are 356. Yet despite the relative success of the condor recovery project, the California condor is still one of the most endangered birds in the world. Why has the condor been so hard to protect?
Well, one thing is for sure: It isn't because no one would notice if they were gone. The California condor is one of nature's finest winged creatures, sporting a wingspan of 9.5 feet, a lifespan of up to 60 years, and a maximum flight speed of 50 mph. As a carrion bird, it plays an important role in recycling detritus and dead organic waste. Yet while admittedly a formidable physical presence as far as birds go, the condor also depends on a very specific habitat to survive: Caves, ledges, or large trees are necessary for nesting, while sweeping savannahs and grasslands are a must in its search for food. The upshot is that the condor is limited to living in certain regions of the western United States such as Southern California and Arizona--places that also have become increasingly attractive for human development in the past fifty years.
Accordingly, historical threats to the condor have included DDT, shooting, lead poisioning, and collision with man-made objects like power lines (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Life History). Yet above all else, habitat loss has always been the biggest threat to the condor's survival. Because humans and condors just couldn't seem to share the west, there were only 22 condors left in the wild by 1987. With those dismal figures, it was no wonder that the California Condor Recovery Project decided that saving the condors demanded a complete removal from the ambience in which they were being destroyed. The recovery team, sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Los Angeles Zoo, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, was only able to save the species from extinction by transferring all 22 remaining condors into captive breeding programs.
Since 1992, however, the condors have been back in the wild--with moderate success. Now, about 60 condors free fly over California and over 50 roam the skies of Arizona, with much of the rest still in captivity. Yet environmentalists still fight against development in the most important condor nesting spaces: The current controversy over the Tejon Ranch area, a part of Tehachapi Mountains 60 miles north of Los Angeles, is a case in point for the way in which development still remains a tenacious obstacle in the condor's fight for survival. It seems that the fight for a space for the condor in the modern west is not over.
Still, environmentalists show no signs of giving up hope. One of the mainstays of the program has been education about the condor reintroduction program to eliminate some of the man-made threats to the condor's survival. Protecting this beautiful bird has not been easy, but it seems that no one is ready to give up anytime soon. If you share a home with the condor, see what you can do to help it make a comeback here.
Want more condor? Check out the California condor featured on Jon Stewart's interview with Dr. Jane Goodall on November 12's The Daily Show.
You might also like: