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Fate of the Condor

January 19, 1986

I have been following the attempts to preserve the California condor and have some questions and observations to make. Last winter half the known wild condor population of 12 birds "disappeared" and are presumed dead--lead poisoning from bullets ingested by the birds while feeding on animals shot and left behind by poachers being the probable cause of death.

The California Condor Recovery Team decided to capture three of the six remaining wild birds, release three captive-raised birds and leave the other three birds in the wild. In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to capture all the wild condors.

The recently captured female condor brought to the Wild Animal Park, suffering from lead poisoning and pellet wounds, was snared and manipulated for various procedures such as blood and sex typing and "tagging" with radio transmitters on at least three separate occasions, all of which were undoubtedly highly stressful and traumatic.

Is it coincidental that within 18 months of these manipulative captures she became the victim of lead pellets? Were the six "missing" condors similarly snared and tagged? Could the transmitter and/or the accompanying and subsequent traumatic and invasive handling of the bird (presumably some surgical intervention was involved in the tagging procedure) have caused her physiological and behavioral responses to be less than normal--and hence more vulnerable to lead poisoning whether swallowed or shot?

Whether the captures figured into the demise of the birds is academic; that over half the remaining wild population has been negatively affected by lead within one year is not. The emphasis must be placed on the lead that poisoned the birds, put there by man, and on the destruction of the condors' habitat, and not on the altruism and heroics of man's expensive and all too late rescue attempts.

Perhaps the fate of the condor will teach us that the time to work feverishly to prevent extinction is not when the population become drastically reduced. And the way to do so does not depend upon manipulation of the animals themselves, but on the preservation of the delicate relationship between animals and the environment developed through eons of evolution. The only way this can be done is by protecting our wild lands and preventing human encroachment--otherwise all species, including our own, will evolve to an artificial and premature extinction.

TERRIL DOWNEY

Vista

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