A number of professional journals serve the managers, keepers, scientists, and others who work in the world’s zoos. In this post, I note items about the California condor from 2 of these “trade” publications.
The 2017 edition of the International Zoo Yearbook is the 51st volume of this valuable resource.
The 1974 edition in my library (volume 14) includes 2 items concerning the California condor.
Frank Todd’s article “Maturation and Behaviour of the California Condor Gymnogyps californianus at the Los Angeles Zoo” describes observations of the only condor in captivity at the time. Here are some noteworthy passages:
During the course of our studies, we worked with it weekly and were the recipients of a number of serious bites, some requiring stitches. Most bites were not interpreted as aggressive, but merely reflected the curious and playful nature of the bird.
The condor never seemed to tire of pulling or tugging at objects…. We used a thick leather leash to keep it occupied, and on more than one occasion, I was pulled to the ground.
In an effort to entice us in [to the cage] to “play”, it commonly would dance about with semi-opened wings and jump several feet into the air while rotating 180° or more. This often went on for several minutes with numerous runs, jumps, gyrations, and aerial revolutions.
The same volume of the International Zoo Yearbook lists the California condor in the section “Census of Rare Animals in Captivity”. This is an impressive, world-wide list of species and zoos but there is only the single entry for the California condor.
Another zoo-focused journal is Der Zoologische Garten, published continuously since 1859. The 1986 issue in my library was published in the former East Germany (this issue combines numbers 4 and 5 of the new-series volume 56). Most of the articles in the issue are in German but 2 are in English.
“Re-establishment of the California Condor through Captive Breeding” was written by Warren Thomas and Cathleen Cox of the Los Angeles Zoo. Their article summarizes the history of the condor and outlines activities and plans for preventing the species’ extinction. This paragraph drew my attention:
20 to 30 years ago when it was ascertained that this species was rapidly diminishing …, most pragmatic, knowledgeable zoologists agreed that the condor was losing the battle for survival in the wild and there were early proposals to set up captive breeding populations. Unfortunately, there was overwhelming, negative criticism by persons who felt that nothing should be kept in captivity, and little was done other than to set up refuges in the wild. The refuges helped but simply did not turn the tide, and the condor has been disappearing at the rate of two and one-half birds per year ever since.
To be fair, the opposition to captive breeding of California condors was based on more than just opposition to keeping birds in captivity.
The article concludes:
Are we acting in the nick of time – or is it too little, too late? That question remains….
Let us hope that there is still time for this majestic bird.
Among the photographs in Thomas and Cox’s article is this one of the bird studied by Frank Todd for his report in the 1974 International Zoo Yearbook:
For more on the controversial – but vital – role of zoos in the history of California condors and humans, see these previous posts: Are nearly-extinct species ruins? and Let them evolve.