Making fun

Is there anything funny about an exceptionally large, endangered bird?

Here, for your consideration, are an assortment of items concerning the California condor that were intended to be humorous. Two of the items are not explicitly about the California condor, but are close enough.

In T. Coraghessan Boyle’s short story “Sorry Fugu”, a depressed chef finds some relief with black humor:

He even, half-seriously, drew up a fantasy menu, a list of dishes no one had ever tasted, not sheiks or presidents. La Cuisine des Espèces en Danger, he would call it. Breast of California condor aux chanterelles; snail darter à la meunière; medallions of panda alla campagnola. Marie laughed out loud when he presented her with the menu that afternoon – “I’ve invented a new cuisine!” he shouted – and for a moment, the pall lifted.

A cartoon in The New Yorker featured a sombrero-wearing man with arms so long that, with his elbows resting on a bar, he takes up enough space for 5 patrons. He is approached by another man, hat in hand, who asks:

Are you the one they call El Cóndor?

In 2012, the Onion offered a creative approach to protecting endangered species:

“In order to safeguard the lives of innocent creatures and preserve the biodiversity of our nation’s ecosystems, our Species Protection Program creates entirely new identities for animals and relocates them to places where no predator or poacher will ever find them,” said service director Vincent Hill, who confirmed that the former California condor now goes under a pseudonym and, in fact, no longer lives in California.

01 AIR
The article “Is the Grand Canyon a fake?” from The Annals of Improbable Research included a photograph of a condor looking downward. The caption reads:

California condor compares the depth of the Grand Canyon against other canyons.

02 Daily Alta California
Going way back to the 19th century, the Daily Alta California, a major San Francisco newspaper at the time, presented a tall tale about “Budd Smith”. Among Smith’s adventures was this:

It is said that while at White Pine he sewed a pelican’s head on the body of a black eagle and sold it to an amateur scientist from Boston as a Nevada condor.

I particularly appreciate the previous 3 items for poking fun at science/scientists.

The last 2 items, both from The Washington Post, have a particular tone. Tony Kornheiser devoted his last column of 1995 to a series of jokes, including this one:

        A man is on trial for killing a California condor, an endangered species.
        The judge says, “I’d like to hear your side of the story.”
        The man says, “I was camping with two friends, and we got caught in an avalanche. Both my friends died, and I was near death myself. I looked up and saw a shadow above me. I fired my gun, and a condor fell at my feet. If I hadn’t eaten that condor, I’d have died. The search party found me two days later. I’m sorry, your honor, but I had no idea it was a condor.”
        Tears welled up in the judge’s eyes, and he says, “The sanctity of human life outweighs killing an animal on the endangered-species list. I’m going to let you go.”
        As the man leaves the courtroom, he is surrounded by the press. “We can’t let you go,” they say, “without asking: What does a condor taste like?”
        “Oh, kind of a cross between a bald eagle and a peregrine falcon.”

In 1983, the Post’s editorial board published a 433-word essay on the occasion of the first hatching of a California condor in captivity. The editorial begins:

That California condor chick is out of its egg, the San Diego Zoo reports. The chick is said to be vigorous. The zoo is feeding it a rich diet of finely chopped baby mice.

Hey, wait a minute. Don’t mice have rights, too? Just because condors are bigger and scarcer, does that give them a license to eat anybody else who might come down the road? This precedent has ominous implications for all of us who belong to a numerous species.

Driving home the point, the editorial continues:

Our advice to the parents of small children is to keep them well away from the San Diego Zoo until this whole situation is clarified.

The editorial board concludes:

How much more elevated a scene it would be if the zoo were starting the chick off in true California style on unsweetened corn flakes covered with rich creamy goat’s milk. The zoo is caring for the chick’s physical needs, but that is hardly sufficient. It now has a splendid opportunity to begin elevating the moral standards of all condors as well.

The hatching of this chick, named Sisquoc, was, to many, a momentous event, the result of decades of struggle. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Times [London], Time magazine, and other news outlets provided straightforward reports of the hatching. The Washington Post itself published a serious, detailed news article calling the hatching “a small triumph”.

Sisquoc hatched on March 30 and the Post’s editorial was published on April 3. Perhaps these dates are close enough to April Fool’s Day to explain the editorial. Or, perhaps the Post’s mockery was aimed more at California than at the California condor.

While I was amused by T. Coraghessan Boyle’s dark notion of endangered species cuisine, the Post’s editorial, clearly intended as humorous, fell flat with me.

Boyle, T Coraghessan. Sorry fugu. In If the river was whiskey. Viking. 1989.

Shanahan, Danny. Are you the one they call El Cóndor? New Yorker. 8 November 1993.

Endangered wildlife to be given new identities in species protection program. 27 October 2012. <>

Spamer, Earle E. Is the Grand Canyon a fake? Annals of Improbable Research. March-April 2006.

Untitled item. Daily Alta California. 23 March 1874.

Kornheiser, Tony. Jest foolin’ around. Washington Post. 31 December 1995.

Bringing up the condor. Washington Post. 3 April 1983.

Half a pound of hope for condors. New York Times. 3 April 1983.

Just in time for Easter. Chicago Tribune. 3 April 1983.

Condor chick doing well. Times [London]. 2 April 1983.

Golden, Frederic. New day of the condors. Time. 18 April 1983.

Russell, Cristine. Healthy condor is hatched in captivity. Washington Post. 1 April 1983.