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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Early attempts at captive breeding

We now know that California condors can be bred in captivity. But humans gained this knowledge only in 1988 with the hatching of Molloko at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. This chick was the first California condor to be hatched from an egg produced by 2 captive parents.

Years of research had preceded Molloko’s hatching. But long before this successful research program began, there was an unsuccessful effort to breed California condors at the National Zoo in Washington DC.

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Are nearly-extinct species “ruins”?

Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s there was much controversy over what humans should or should not do about the California condor. Similar arguments about other endangered species persist and this, in part, explains why the now decades-old condor controversy continues to draw attention.

In this post I consider whether Charles Dickens can help us to better understand the “condor debate” and the current variants of this debate that involve other species.

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