From: Karen Klein, Yale Environment 360
Published June 14, 2016 07:17 AM

California Condor Population Reaches New Heights

After years of intense — and often controversial — restoration efforts, biologists are finally reporting some good news for the beleaguered California condor: More chicks are surviving in the wild, and the birds are becoming increasingly independent and expanding their range.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced what it called a milestone for the California condor: More chicks had hatched and fledged in the wild during 2015 than the number of condors that had died. In late March, Steve Kirkland, the agency’s condor field coordinator, reported that two more chicks had fledged in 2015 in Baja California, but had only just been discovered, bringing the total in the wild to 270.

It was perhaps the most promising news about the condor in decades.

The odds of restoring the California condor have looked chancy for years, and not just because its numbers reached a perilously low 22 before every last one was rounded up in 1982 for a captive breeding program. The bird with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet once glided over much of North America. But that range shrank to the West Coast and portions of the Southwest about 10,000 years ago, when the late Pleistocene animals whose carcasses it fed on went extinct. During the 20th century, poaching, habitat loss, and lead poisoning reduced the vulture’s population to fewer than two-dozen.

The U.S. government’s response — rounding up the birds for a last-ditch captive breeding program, then slowly releasing newly bred birds to the wild — deeply divided conservationists. Some thought the condors wouldn’t breed successfully. Others felt taking the birds out of the wild would only encourage more development of open areas within their range. Still others feared the birds would become a pallid, tame version of their wild selves.

Condors’ release back to the wild over the past two and a half decades has been fraught with peril. They have been electrocuted by power lines, poisoned by lead, and are too chummy by half with people. They have an unfortunate attraction to the detritus of human civilization, downing shiny objects like bottle caps and drinking from puddles of bright-green antifreeze. They are fed proffered carcasses to protect them from ingesting lead ammunition, and are captured for monitoring and, when necessary, chelation — using another substance to bind with the lead so that it is removed by the body.

Continue reading at Yale Environment 360.

Image credit: USFWS.

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