Interest from Great Britain: 1833-1987

This post considers 5 articles that feature or mention the California condor and were published in Great Britain.

For a change from my normal practice in this blog, I will note the articles in reverse chronological order.

01 Tudge 1987

Colin Tudge’s “Rembrandts in the Sky” is an opinion piece that appears in the 1 October 1987 issue of New Scientist. Here are the 1st sentences:

It has cost $25 million so far to save the California condor from extinction, and there are those–many–who feel it has been money badly spent. Take the condor out of the sky, they say, and stick it in a cage, and it’s just a scraggy old bird with nowhere to go; because the country that shaped its evolution is now full of Los Angeles and lead, and will never be fit for condors again.

Tudge pushes back against “those” and “they”, the conservationists who argue for spreading conservation funding broadly rather than on a few symbolic species, such as the condor.

02 Oryx 1980 cover

Stephen Mills’s “Last Chance for the California Condor?” is in the December 1980 issue of Oryx.

03 Mills 1980

Written at a time when there were thought to be only 13 condors living in the wild, Mills’s article captures the desperation of those struggling to save the species from extinction.

The January 1956 issue of the Geographical Magazine includes Telford Hindley Work’s “The California Condor”.

04a Work 1956a

This article includes a number of excellent black and white photos of condors in their habitat:

04b Work 1956b

I was especially struck by this simple photo of a typical condor “nest”:

04c Work 1956c

Work’s article provides an overview of the California condor story and describes the author’s field studies. The author’s conclusion sounds strange today:

It is doubtful whether the population of condors will ever increase much over their estimated present population of sixty because they are an archaic species which has barely managed to survive into an era of greater stress, disturbance and competition resulting from the persistent migration of man into western North America. However, with the creation of a fifty-five-square-mile condor sanctuary …, there is reasonable hope that they will continue to soar peacefully over and nest in the heartland of their territory for many years to come.

This 1956 article was noted, 50 years on, in the January 2006 issue of Geographical Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from that mention:

The story closed with a pessimistic prognosis … However, this has proven not to be the case.

05 Wide World cover

The Wide World magazine describes itself as “The Magazine for Men” and states that it only prints stories that are “STRICTLY TRUE IN EVERY DETAIL” (capitalization in the original).

06a Martinez & Hogg 1933a

“The Condors’ Nest”, in the March 1933 issue of The Wide World, is an adventure set in Baja California. The story begins:

The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), the world’s largest flying bird, is wellnigh extinct.

The plot is this (spoilers ahead):

Seeking to photograph a condor nest, José Martinez lowers himself on a rope down a high cliff.

06b Martinez & Hogg 1933b

Soon after reaching the ledge where the nest is located, he realizes that a wild fire is burning at the top of the cliff, where he has tied his rope. The rope soon falls, leaving him stranded.

Martinez spends days on the ledge, in the sun and with no food or water. He eventually eats the recently-laid condor egg:

… I took a bite and to my surprise found that it really tasted good.

On his 9th day on the ledge, a flash flood fills the canyon below. Martinez dives into the torrent and swims to safety.

Martinez concludes:

Now that I have fully recovered from my terrifying ordeal, I occasionally wonder about those condors…. I’m convinced that, some day or other, I shall come across them again…. The next time I go down a rope to explore a condor’s nest, however, I shall not work alone….

There’s not much here of substance about the California condor. An error stands out:

The condor, although primarily a bird of prey, is not above taking an occasional meal of carrion …

I cannot prove that this story is not true. But a careful reading and look at the accompanying photos make it clear that the story has been embellished.

07 Penny 1833 cover

The 11 May 1833 issue of The Penny Magazine is 8 small-format pages on thin but sturdy paper.

“The Condor”, by an unnamed author, is about the Andean condor. The article is accompanied by this engraving:

08a Anon 1833a

The last paragraph explains the article’s relevance here:

08b Anon 1833b

This is just one example of the 19th-century publications claiming that the condor found in North America was the same species found in South America. Such claims continued for decades after George Shaw identified the California condor as a different species than the Andean condor.

For more on international interest in the California condor see the posts Interest from Africa: 1979-1990 and Interest from Europe: 1908-1988.

An illustration from the New Scientist article noted above is shown in Illustrations with a message. For more articles about the California condor from mid-20th-century magazines for men, see Lads’ Mags.