The Strugle for the California Condor

Lorin McNulty McNulty 1
Environmental Biology
Biology Mid-Term
10 April 2000


The natural environment of the modern world has been under siege for the better part of the past century. This has been due to many factors. The waste produced by an ever-expanding human population has tainted much of the natural resources available to both humans and animals alike. Efforts to curb this waste output and to more effectively dispose of the waste have failed in the mainstream. The constant change of the common environment instituted by humans who have collectively sought to modify their own habitat has exacted a high toll on the available habitat for lesser creatures. Constant waste production, poor disposal, and habitat encroachment have combined to render the balance of the natural world asunder. “The delicate and intricate balance of the natural world has been damaged by a dominant species that has commonly disregarded its inherent responsibility to garnish its actions concurrent with the world it shares with the rest of nature” (Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species. p3).
An all too common result of this imbalance is the expiration of entire species of animals that are dependent on precious resources. Historically, the presence of humans
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has exponentially accelerated the natural rate at which fringe species have met with extinction. Modern humans have followed their own ancient precedent in this regard. “Recorded evidence of early human settlement has shown that human presence alone had accelerated extinction rates to several times its natural rate” (Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species. p4).
However, it is a different precedent that modern humans have sought with the advent of a new and more complete awareness of our collective role as the dominant species. Several recent advances in waste treatment are offering alternatives to the usual high-output, wasteful societal paradigm. Although habitat encroachment continues to be a source of great conflict between the human population and the animal world, the human race has begun in earnest to attempt restoration of some species that have fallen casualty to pollution, encroachment, or both. Although success has been limited, these restorative efforts represent a reckoning on the behalf of humans with their place in the natural order.
One of the most successful of these programs concerns the California Condor. This magnificent species had all but disappeared from its natural range due to the human presence. With the recently recorded demise of the California Condor’s natural population came the effort to repopulate selected areas of habitat with captively breed condors.

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The California Condor is a remarkable species of scavenging birds indigenous primarily to California. Early studies showed populations of condors ranging from the rocky coastal areas to the interior mountains. In the early 1900s, sightings of these majestic birds, although reclusive in nature, were commonplace.
Early in the 1900s, serious scientific studies began on the California Condors. There were many successful studies in the wild, and there was increasing interest from the scientific community. In 1939, the naturalist Carl Koford first began a careful scientific study of these condors in the wild. Carefully documented field studies yielded a wealth of information about a species in the American West that had previously eluded the scientific eye. One development resulting from the study of Carl Koford was the establishment of the exact nature of the diet of these birds. Although known to be primarily scavengers, it was learned just how well adapted these birds are at finding and discriminating suitable prey. It was learned that the primary feeding times were during daylight hours, with most activity centering near noon. They were observed feeding on carcasses in all states of decay, and even competing with other more aggressive species for rights to a kill. Their bills are exquisitely adapted to tearing animal flesh, and their digestive systems are specially suited to digesting rotting flesh. Condors were not known to have attacked live prey, and the diet of condors was found to have been an assortment
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of carcasses found throughout the feeding range. “Condors were found to have spent an average of fifteen hours a day at the roosting site, and even more hours on days of inclement weather” (Grossman. p38).
These studies also produced the