Friday, April 19, 2013

California condors - Bald, Beautiful and Back from the brink of extinction

Most people associate vultures with darkness and death because that is how movies, television, and books have portrayed them for so long. Yes, they do feed on carcasses of other animals, but this doesn’t make them bad. On the contrary, vultures are a very important part of the food chain and in turn the ecosystem as a whole. Try to imagine a land filled with rotting animals carcasses … it’s not a pretty picture is it?

The California condor is in the vulture family and at one time, not too long ago, was teetering on the brink of extinction. Once widely spread throughout the western United States and Mexico, in 1982 the number of California condors dwindled down to only 22 in the wild.

Destruction of habitat played a big part in the loss of birds, but an even bigger role was played by lead poisoning. Lead bullets used for hunting were being ingested by the California condors, which resulted in lead poisoning and ultimately their demise. So once again, the carelessness of humans was to blame for another species fighting to stay alive.

In 1982, San Diego Zoo Global was given permission to start the very first captive breeding program for the California condor. At the time, this was quite controversial because eggs were being removed from the wild. Well, all controversy aside the captive breeding program was put into motion.

Just this week, three of the four original eggs that were the first to be hatched celebrated their 30th birthday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. These three condors, Saspe, Sisquoc, and Almiyi helped form the foundation of what we know as the condor recovery program.

Dylan and I have a great appreciation for the California condor. They are powerful and majestic animals who deserve just as much love and respect as the cute and cuddly animals. On a recent visit to the San Diego Zoo, we had the opportunity to see these birds up close at their exhibit. Unlike other visits when the birds were perched high atop the branches, they were right up at the glass. As we watched them and admired the beauty of the black feathers cloaking their necks and the different shades of pink and varying degrees of baldness; we overheard some things that were not very nice. In fact, they were pretty upsetting to us.

“What ugly buzzards”


And my personal favorite … “Why would anybody want to have this at a zoo?”

Dylan having a conversation with the California condors at the San Diego Zoo

Obviously these people are uneducated and unable to see the beauty of these birds. Rather than put down the California condor for its appearance and the folklore that has given them a bad name, these people should be thankful. Thankful to San Diego Zoo Global for starting the condor breeding program. Thankful that they are able to see a California condor in real life instead of just a picture in a book listing extinct animals.

San Diego Zoo Global stated that the Safari Park has hatched over 170 chicks and released more than 80 birds in the wild. Currently there are now more than 400 condors, more than half of which are flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico. That is a far cry from the 22 California condors in 1982.

A prime example of how together, we can make a difference and bring a species back from the brink of extinction.

To learn more about the California condor and the condor recovery program you can visit the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy Success Stories page.

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