California condor survival is at the limit

California condor numbers plummeted in the 19th century as a result of poaching, lead poisoning, and deliberate human damage to their natural habitat

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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California condor survival is at the limit

The California condor once occupied a vast area of diffusion which covered the entire Pacific coastal area of North America from Canada to Mexico, reduced, during the 19th century, to the most impervious and mountainous areas.

Today this bird inhabits parts of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, the Coast Mountains in western California, and northern Baja California in Mexico. It looks like a large black vulture with white spots under the wings and a featherless head with a color that varies between yellowish and bright red, depending on the emotionality.

It is a scavenger animal, which feeds on large quantities of meat from carrion. Worldwide, it is one of the longest living birds, reaching the maximum age of 50 years. California condor numbers plummeted in the 19th century as a result of poaching, lead poisoning, and deliberate human damage to their natural habitat.

Fortunately, a conservation movement for the species flourished in the 1950s, leading to the capture of the last specimens in the wild by US government entities in 1987 to try to increase the birth rate and avoid extinction.

The last 22 remaining birds were entrusted to the San Diego Wild Animal Park at the Los Angeles Zoo. The number of California condors has fortunately increased thanks to the efforts of naturalists to promote captive breeding and, since 1991, have reintroduced some garments into the wild.

This is the most expensive animal conservation project ever undertaken in the United States. Despite efforts, the California condor remains one of the rarest birds in the world. In fact, as of April 2009, 322 living condors are known, 172 of them in the wild.

Since May 2013, the number of specimens has risen to 435, of which 237 in the wild. It should also be remembered that the condor has been a very important animal for many Native American tribes and plays a fundamental role in their mythology.

Naturally, there was no shortage of problems, some resolved, others in the process of being resolved. The specimens that cannot be raised by their parents have grown up trying to prevent them from coming into contact with humans and are fed by a puppet that imitates the head of an adult condor.

However, many of these chicks exhibit imperfect behavior and are now being sought to be used only for breeding and not for releases. At first many specimens also killed themselves by landing on high voltage wires, but fortunately today they are all trained to be afraid of them.

All specimens destined for release are also educated to fear humans, to prevent them from putting themselves in danger by getting too close to tourists and hunters. The serious problem of lead poisoning persists and this forces the authorities to capture all wild condors twice a year, to treat them, in case of danger, with a chelating product, which eliminates the dangerous metal from the body in a few hours .

Nonetheless, some specimens not recovered in time are equally lost. In September 2008, a regulation went into effect in California that bans lead-containing ammunition in all areas frequented by condors. In Arizona, however, the state distributes lead-free ammunition free of charge.