Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The California Condor; A Story of Tragedy, Survival and the Possibility of Redemption

Friends of the California Condors
The plight for the survival of the California Condor, the largest flying bird in North America has been a perilous one. These majestic, birds with a 10 foot wing span, once reined freely over the skies of North and Central America but by 1982 were reduced to a population of 22. In 1987 conservationists and biologists surmised that the only way to save the species from extinction was to capture the remaining California Condors and start a captive breeding program designed to raise their numbers and eventually release them back into the wild. It was called the California Condor Recovery Project. To date the project can boast to over 400 live California Condors and over 200 of them have been released and are living in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California. 

I had the privilege of watching a screening of "The Condor's Shadow" at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center hosted by Friends of the California Condors Wild and Free. I found it a moving, nostalgic, informative and inspiring film. The footage of the condors' in their natural habitat is awe-inspiring and the dedication of the humans entrusted with their care brings hope for a better tomorrow. 

When I was a girl I remember the debate over the correct action for humans to take over the fate of these birds. Some said that the condor had had its day and should be allowed to become extinct, others felt that humans had directly contributed to its potential extinction and that humans had a responsibility to preserve the species. I agreed with the latter. I remember going to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and seeing their enclosures in the late 80's and early 90's. I visited the Los Angeles Zoo and learned about the captive breeding programs and the plans to reintroduce them into the wild. The film brought me back to my journey with the California Condor, at times it was sad, at times it was incredulous and then the miraculous happened, condors we reintroduced into the wild and hope sprang eternal.

"The Condor's Shadow" encompasses much more than the conservation history of the condor. It takes the viewer behind the scenes and shares the world not only of the condor but of the biologists and conservationist that work tirelessly to protect them. One of the most poignant parts of the film for me was when, Jane Hamber - condor biologist and activist, read her journal entry on the day the last free condor was captured. Her entry eloquently illustrated the depth and breadth of what so many must have felt that day. It brought me to tears and gave me a new understanding of the tremendous weight of responsibility these biologists and conservationists must have felt. 

The Condor's Shadow is a bittersweet story told beautifully and authentically. It captures the plight of the California Condor's survival and the work of diverse groups of people coming together to ensure its success. Below is the trailer from the film. Please visit the links provided to the film's website for more information about the film and for screening opportunities.  

The Condor's Shadow - Trailer - YouTube

I had the opportunity to meet Joseph Brandt, one of the featured condor biologists in "The Condor's Shadow", at the screening. Spending over a decade in the field and interacting intimately with the magnificent California Condor, he brought firsthand knowledge of the birds and their struggles. While he clearly conveyed the challenges that face this bird he also brought stories of hope for a brighter future. People like Joseph Brandt are the unsung heroes of our planet. They quietly and consistently endanger life and limb to protect the wild for the rest of us and for future generations. Without the vision, commitment and compassion of those lovers and protectors of nature our own future as a species is in jeopardy. A heart felt thank you to Joseph for taking time away from the field to meet with us and to inspire us out of our doldrums.

He was sporting this beautiful shirt designed by a group of grade school students, reminding us that we each, regardless of age or ability, have talents to contribute to the conservation effort. Whether we are painters, poets, photographers, musicians, biologists, hunters, geneticist or third graders, we all have unique and needed gifts to share. 

In his TEDx Talk, "How we brought the condor back from the brink", Michael Mace shares the amazing story of the California Condor, the challenges it still faces and how far the population has come from the beginning of the California Condor Recovery Project in the 1980's to the present.

How we brought the condor back from the brink | Michael Mace | TEDxDeExtinction

There are three major challenges faced by California Condor to its successful survival in its natural habitats. 

One of these challenges is something called micro trash. While many people wouldn't give littler of this small size a second thought it is lethally dangerous to young condors. Parents bring the micro trash into the nest and the babies feed on it. It is impossible to digest and can cause fatal impaction of the gut. We can all make a difference in the accumulation of micro trash. We can make sure that we don't litter even small plastic bottle caps. We can make sure to pick up after ourselves even bits of broken glass or wires. We can carry a bag to fill with trash when we go on walks or hikes. We can also volunteer our time and labor for Micro Trash clean ups. 

Another potentially lethal challenge is lead poisoning. Studies have shown that condors ingest lead by eating the remains of animals that have been hunted with lead bullets. While in our modern society, responsible hunters provide an important food source for the California Condor and help ensure its survival, hunters that use lead ammunition are directly poisoning the condors. At least half of the wild condor population must be treated for lead poisoning on a regular basis. If a bird with high levels goes untreated for too long it is fatal, as we see happens in the film A Flight Plan for the California Condor. If you are a hunter and are interested in learning more about how you can help save the condor by changing your ammunition please visit Hunting with Non-lead Ammunition's website.

Challenge number three directly relates to the previous challenges. Our human behaviors such as littering and hunting with lead ammunition are directly responsible for almost every condor fatality in the wild. Therefor we need humans dedicated to the welfare and health of the condors to intervene on behalf of the rest of us. It is currently the only way to counter act our ignorance and potentially fatalistic behaviors towards the condor in particular and the natural world in general.  

A Flight Plan for the California Condor

In the film A Flight Plan for the California Condor we hear from field biologists, geneticists and condor activists. The film shares the important roles key zoos have played in the breeding program and the challenges they face in keeping a healthy population in the wild. There is also information about the California Condor live streaming program. It gives people from around the world an opportunity to get to know these amazing birds in their natural habitat.

Education and knowledge are key if we are to ensure the California Condors' survival for future generations. Teacher and educators can play an important part in educating our future generations about condors with Condor Kids, a curriculum designed to help students fall in love with the California Condor. 
About The Program:

Condor Kids has received the 2016 Superintendents Award in Excellence in Education. 

The curriculum is designed with active learning in mind. All 27 lessons are teacher friendly and standards aligned – correlated to NGSS & CC standards & organized with the EQuIP rubric. This curriculum is part of a much broader conservation partnership between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Designed with Fillmore Unified School District students in mind, our project includes the development of this curriculum, nest monitoring strategies (and live streaming cameras), as well as student field trips to Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, and the Santa Barbara Zoo. This link, Condor Kids, will take you to their website.

The California Department of Fish and Game is a great resource for all things related to the California Condor. They even have live streaming cam links directly on their site. 

Hopper Mountain National Refuge is another incredible source of information with live Condor cams and links to references and resources to protect, educate and inspire. They have a "get involved section" on the website offering several opportunities to make your own contribution towards the survival of the California Condor. 

If you are a Facebook user The Condor Cave is a page you'll love to visit. About The Condor Cave page in their own words. Flights, camera, action! The stage is set to watch a wild condor nest develop from hatch to fledge thanks to the first wild condor nest camera. Follow the highlights on our page!

In closing, I hope you will enjoy this song by Roland H. Ferrer of Sound of Zero inspired by the majestic California Condor. It is also a thank you to Joseph Brandt and all of the people that have dedicated their lives to protect the condor.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center
A special thank you to Placerita Canyon Nature Center and to Friends of the California Condors Wild and Free for hosting "The Condor's Shadow" and for all that they do to protect and preserve nature and all of the creatures that live in it (including humans).

Thank you for visiting. Wishing you Peace today and everyday.

Aurora's "Speak Your Art Blog Hub" combines posts from seven of her other blogs: In the Flow Studios ArtsIn the Flow Studios BodyI Love Shelter DogsMana KeepersPaaMano Eskrima & Performing ArtsSelf-Actualization thru Women's Empowerment and Speak Your Art Poetry. It brings her organizations together and offers her readers an easier way to follow new posts in one convenient location. 


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