Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Condor Corridor

Pics courtesy of
Over a two week period, we did some truly intense road tripping.  While it was fun and educational, it was also exhausting.  Tomorrow we'll be visiting the Grand Canyon and taking a look at this natural wonder of the Earth. Today's post is really a continuation on nature from yesterday's write on endangered/extinct animals.  And there is hope for the California Condor.  During our trip to the Grand Canyon, we went to an outdoors lecture on this extremely large and ugly scavenger:) In 8th grade, I remember learning that this bird was extremely endangered at around 22 birds left in the wild and I remember feeling really depressed.  The first time I heard the word "extinction" was from a class in kindergarten during a kid discussion on dinosaurs, but I didn't think it still happened in the world....until 7th grade.  That's when I felt the sadness and eventual anger from its meaning.  I remember it all too well during a talk on pesticides affecting bird eggs and how humans caused ALL of it.  The California Condor was the central topic and I truly felt there wasn't any hope at all for these incredibly ugly birds.  I sat making projections on the birds with my child mind and I got depressed because it all looked hopeless.  Fast forward to the future 30 years later.....
Note the tags on the wings of the condor.  This helps identify with the population study.
And the news is positive and the conservation efforts are looking great.  There are two genetically diverse populations now in both California and Arizona.  Why is it called the California Condor and not the Arizona condor?  Simple.  The last condor in the wild, at the time, was caught in California thus carrying the state's name. The last of the 22 condors were captured and placed into different areas to begin their breeding efforts.  As previously mentioned, condors produce 1 egg every year, but a researcher discovered that if you take the egg from the nest, the condor will lay another egg.  If you take that 2nd egg, the condor will lay another.  And if you take that 3rd egg, it WON'T lay another:)  Understanding this pattern helped increase the condor population quicker.  Two eggs would be held in an incubator and raised by human hands while the 3rd egg would be left for the parents to nest upon.   Egg shells at the time were extremely soft and had to be treated with extreme care.  The Condor program also had to create Momma and Daddy condor puppets to feed the new hatchlings.  Today the wild California Condor population stands at 356.  Two genetically diverse populations exist both in California and Arizona where their populations continue to grow undisturbed.
There are still breeding programs at several zoos in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland.    Today the condors still face lead poisoning along the northern rim of the Grand Canyon where hunting is permitted.  They also are treated occassionaly for "detoxification" and released back into the wild.  You may ask like we did, "How are they still being poisoned in such a natural and pristine area?"  The hunters use lead in the bullets.  When a bullet is shot and hits the target, the lead ball breaks up and scatters throughout the carcass of the animal killed.  Condors, being scavengers, eat the leftovers and absorb the lead from the animal.  The solution?  Conservationists and researchers now mandate copper bullets along the rim.  Condors are interesting birds because they will follow the hunters knowing that there is food awaiting them:)  They live in the sky caves along this immense canyon.  And here's one more thing that I thought was interesing about the scavenger bird community.....and a Pocahontas moment....the web of nature if you will and how they all connect together.  The Grand Canyon is home to so much life.  When something dies, the Raven finds the carcass.  The Turkey Vulture follows the Raven.  And the California Condor follows the Turkey Vulture.
Our presenter was fun and interesting.  I love success stories and I hope the conservation efforts continue for this incredibly beautiful part of our state.  I forgot about Phoenix and our embarrassement of a governor and thought....yes, we do have something positive that can make an Arizonan proud! I left this presentation with a smile on my face knowing that our condor friends were in good hands. More tomorrow....

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