These birds, who had a wild population of 23 in North America in 1982, are now 340 in number.
Nature-lovers rejoice as California condors were spotted in Sequoia National Park for the first time in at least three decades. The area they returned to is historically part of the endangered bird's range, the joint statement by the National Park Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service said earlier this month. In late May, it was noted that at least six of the majestic scavengers visited the park. Four of them were seen flying near the famed Giant Forest. Two more were spotted near Moro Rock, which is a geologic dome and popular hiking spot, the statement further said, reported the LA Times.
California condors are the biggest land bird in North America and once inhabited the length of the Pacific Coast from Northern Canada into Baja California. Unfortunately, due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction these magnificent birds seemingly disappeared from the wild in the late 1980s. Thanks to a captive-breeding and release program, their numbers have gone up and their presence has surged in their native habitat in recent years.
This great news has us soaring! California condors return to Sequoia National Park for the 1st time in decades. Congrats to our partners @SantaBarbaraZoo, @LAZoo, and @USFWS.— San Diego Zoo Safari Park (@sdzsafaripark) July 18, 2020
Details: https://t.co/VWEdtFp151 pic.twitter.com/abcGYWYrYy
According to several wildlife experts, the primary threat to the species' recovery is lead poisoning, which is responsible for half of all condor deaths in which a cause was identified. The birds scavenge for food, feeding on carcasses of dead animals, which often contain fragments from lead bullets used by hunters and ranchers. “Lead-core bullets shed weight in small fragments as they hit game, and have the potential to poison wildlife, including condors, who scavenge the remains,” said Chad Thomas, an outreach coordinator with the Institute for Wildlife Studies.
“Condors were consistently seen throughout the parks until the late 1970s. Observations became increasingly rare throughout the latter portion of the century as the population declined,” Tyler Coleman, a wildlife biologist with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said in a statement. Prior to their stage of near-extinction, these birds were frequently spotted nesting in the cavities of giant sequoias all through the Sierra Nevada.
Wildlife biologists at the Santa Barbara Zoo are also tracking them, using advanced GPS devices to keep a tab on their movements. They were able to confirm that condors have indeed returned to the towering trees and cliffs within the national park. The birds have recovered to a wild population of around 340 from just 23 in 1982. At this point, survivors were brought into captivity to preserve the gene pool through captive breeding at the Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park. The staff at the zoo paired sexually mature condors with one another, supported their offspring once it came along, and then sent members of the family to other programs in order to diversify the population, reports KCRW.
California Condors Return to Sequoia National Park for First Time in 50 Years https://t.co/6yyGivFuDb— Nat Moss (@natmoss) July 10, 2020
“We use GPS transmitters to track the birds’ movement, which can be over hundreds of miles on a single day,” said Dave Meyer, one of the biologists from Santa Barbara zoo. “On this particular day we documented the birds’ signals around Giant Forest, and we are excited that park employees observed the birds and confirmed their use of this important historic habitat.” The data accumulated by these GPS trackers are also helping researchers identify which habitats are particularly crucial to the species survival. It also checks the locations of where they are nesting, feeding, and the status of the condors that are sick, hurt, or even dead.