The California condor
This month, Chris Parish shines the spotlight on the largest flying bird in North America.
Has California condor conservation recently passed a milestone?
Yes. In 1982, there were just 22 birds in existence and the decision was made to take them all into captivity for a breeding programme. That has been hugely successful. We now have over 500 birds, more than half of which are in the wild.
What was killing them?
Many theories have come and gone, but it now looks pretty certain that lead poisoning was the chief culprit. When animals are shot with leadbased ammunition, scavengers, such as condors, risk being poisoned when they feed on the carcasses. It’s still the primary cause of condor mortality today. And the beauty of that is that it’s a preventable cause of mortality. Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting since 1991 in the USA and since 1993 in Canada. But other kinds of ammunition are still a problem – some lead-rich rifle bullets can fragment into hundreds of pieces in carcasses, for example.
What can be done?
Some believe legislation can help. But I think we should be changing culture and tradition through engagement. After all, who is best placed to prevent lead poisoning? It’s hunters. Through the North American Non-Lead Partnership, we are engaging our fellow hunters and wildlife agencies to voluntarily switch to non-leadbased ammunition. We’re seeing great progress locally, but we want to roll this out on a landscape, national and international scale. Saving the condor from extinction was an expensive project, but it’s taught us so much about how to prevent lead entering ecosystems and potentially poisoning scavengers around the world.
What does seeing a wild condor mean to you?
I’ve been watching condors since I was a child. Seeing one today is a demonstration of what we’re capable of – both good and bad. They were nearly extinct because of the bad and they’re here today because of the good. It gives me hope that our global society has the ability to identify problems and fix them in time. Stuart Blackman
CHRIS PARISH is director of global conservation at The Peregrine Fund.
FIND OUT MORE
Read more about the North American Non-Lead Partnership at nonleadpartnership.org
The wingspan of a Californian condor is over 3m from tip to tip.