Save a condor – wildlings come home to roost

By Dr Graham Moxley, Plant Sciences School of Life Sciences (Click here to hear the podcast) A condor chick has hatched in the wild for the first time, marking a major breakthrough in scientists’…

By Dr Graham Moxley, Plant Sciences

School of Life Sciences

(Click here to hear the podcast)

A condor chick has hatched in the wild for the first time, marking a major breakthrough in scientists’ battle to save one of the world’s most iconic birds. Researchers and conservationists have co-ordinated a scheme to help release captive chicks into the wild. The breakthrough was possible because the mother of the chicks was deemed not to be vulnerable enough to move them back to her pen. Condors are an endangered species as a result of shooting and habitat loss, particularly in the United States and Canada. ‘Poachers’ Scientist and conservationists from the California condor foundation and the University of California, Davis, are back in the wild after years in captivity. They have established a new condor breeding programme and released four chicks into a reserve in La Pintada in central Mexico. This means that the nine chicks that were released in 1984 are now for the first time back in the wild with their mother. “It is a very rare experience and it was an incredible moment when the chicks hatched this morning and we were able to see the two young birds shortly after,” said study leader Chris Voorhees. Condors become wary of and then barter with humans – so trapping is illegal

Chris Voorhees “Condors are extremely shy and they spend most of their time either in the nest or on the feeder in the sanctuary and as a result we haven’t had the opportunity to try to rescue them out of the nest. “We have made an effort to capture them here in order to try to save them before they became difficult or dangerous to recapture but we have never really achieved anything. “In this case we went ahead and put the chicks in the nest and even though they are of a different species it did make a difference that we were trying to protect the mother.” The feathered creatures in La Pintada have also taken the choice of mating with some juvenile forest condors kept in captivity. The new females are expected to remain in the reserves for several years and breed with the new chicks. Chris Voorhees, a senior conservation biologist for the California condor foundation, said he was impressed that the chicks had managed to reach maturity despite being kept in captivity. “The chicks were hatched, fed and protected by a new pair of female birds, in our case which had two litters who were exchanged to us by the Mexican government in the beginning of the 20th Century,” he said. “It was a neat coincidence that our two new born chicks became useful for mating with our a hundred year old exchanged birds. “Condors are extremely shy and they spend most of their time either in the nest or on the feeder in the sanctuary and as a result we haven’t had the opportunity to try to rescue them out of the nest. “In this case we went ahead and put the chicks in the nest and even though they are of a different species it did make a difference that we were trying to protect the mother.” But Mr Voorhees stressed that it was illegal to trap wild condors, even if they are worth catching for hunting or from restaurants. Condors will be a key test for the breeding programme

“Every condor we tag, release, translocate, manage or manage or risk capturing, we can’t do that without a licence,” he said. “We have had a long term partnership with the Mexican government for many years but we have for many years had a very uncertain future due to the continuing persecution of the California condor. “Condors are very difficult to catch but they are very difficult to release. “A lot of the condors have been released illegally and so the odds are pretty good that they are either with poachers or along the coast with the black rhinos, the tiger and jaguars, they are very very numerous.” Though condors are the last members of the North American Condor Species at risk of extinction, a small population of nesting condors is still found across the San Joaquin Valley. The research is part of the Condor Initiative

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