The Cal­i­for­nia con­dor

This month, Chris Par­ish shines the spot­light on the largest fly­ing bird in North Amer­ica.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

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.


Read more about the North Amer­i­can Non-Lead Part­ner­ship at non­lead­part­ner­

The wing­span of a Cal­i­for­nian con­dor is over 3m from tip to tip.

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