Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Condors – Part I

About a year ago I wrote in this space about an [unintentionally voyeuristic] encounter with California Condors along their eponymous state’s Big Sur coast.  How majestic those birds are!  Their mastery of the air, soaring on huge wings, takes them on daily journeys many miles long and covering hundreds of hectares of landscape.  One might think them invincible, but alas, an earth element for which evolution did not prepare their kind has been their downfall, and still threatens these 747s of the avian world.  Element 82, lead, is highly toxic, especially when ingested (or delivered at a high rate of speed). Environmental “clean-up crews” in the form of scavengers such as condors and other vultures as well as Bald Eagles have perished, often after suffering lengthy painful debilitating neurological problems caused by eating lead-contaminated carrion.  This “mineral-rich” food is unnecessarily abundant in some areas, especially where shooters have not yet converted to lead-free ammunition.  Shotgun pellets in an un-retrieved duck; a wounded deer, which wandered into a secluded spot to die after eluding a hunter; a coyote shot by a shepherd --- any number of similarly contaminated menu items lure the unsuspecting scavengers to their ultimate demise.
California Condor
Andean Condor

 Are these same hazards responsible for the decline in the Andean Condor populations? 

According to BirdLife International that species is “highly vulnerable to human persecution, which persists in parts of its range owing to alleged attacks [by condors] on livestock (Houston 1994)”.  Yes, lead ammunition plays a role in the decline of these condors as well, although it would seem that the “high speed” delivery of lead is responsible for a higher percentage of condor mortality south of the equator.

It is likely that an increased effort to educate and inform the general public living in condor-populated regions could keep these monarchs of the sky aloft for future generations to watch in wide-eyed wonder.

In my next blog I will tell of my most recent condor encounters – Andean Condors in the Ecuador Andes.  Tune in again.

Houston, D. C. 1994. Cathartidae (New World Vultures). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.),Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 24-41. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Vultur gryphus.  http://www.birdlife.org 

Above photos by W.Fogleman