Important essays: 1903 & 1948

As I prowl libraries and book shops (physical and digital) seeking historical information about the California condor, I often encounter thought-provoking items that are about much more than the condor. That’s because the condor has long been employed as an example of the larger “crisis” involving humans and our environment.

For this post I consider 2 articles from the 1st half of the 20th century that show the long-standing environmental concerns of 2 thoughtful humans.

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Let them evolve

Beginning in the 1950s, those concerned about the California condor debated how best to prevent their extinction. Two main alternatives emerged: protect condor habitat and leave the birds alone, or intensively manage the condors, including breeding them in captivity. In the 1980s, the latter strategy won out and has demonstrated success.

01 Katherine Gould - Wallace 1997
Zoo scientist Mike Wallace carries an immature California condor (photograph by Katherine Gould)

However, the survival of California condors continues to depend heavily on human intervention. For example, condors living in the wild regularly experience lead poisoning that requires a return to captivity for veterinary treatment. Condors are exposed to lead primarily by consuming carrion that contains fragments of hunters’ bullets.

I recently encountered a book chapter that gave me new insight into the 20th century debate about how to insure the California condor’s survival. The chapter also considers possible futures for the California condor and for the relationship between the condor and humans. This post offers some reaction to this book chapter.

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