Endangered Sierra: From the Time of the Mammoth…   Leave a comment

The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) flew over a strange land 10,000 years ago. Massive glaciers thousands of feet thick covered much of the northern hemisphere, the ice holding so much water that sea levels were unrecognizable from what we know today. Elephant-like mammoths and mastodons traveled in great herds; giant ground sloths and cave bears would tower over any similar animals of our time; sabre-tooth cats (smilodon) were constant threats to the humans who lived by gathering fruits and grains and hunting with simple tools and weapons. Today all are gone, except for the Condor. And because of pollution, poisons, poaching and habitat destruction it’s unknown if this species that witnessed entire environments change and humans develop to the point they can impact the world in any way they choose, will be able to survive in its natural environment for another generation.

In the 1970’s, there were only a handful of California Condors, no more than 30 or so. The condor is a type of vulture, and vultures eat what most other animals won’t – carrion (dead animals). Because they aren’t so picky in their diet, they help keep the environment clean, but this also means the condor is just about the last animal on the food chain and any poisons or chemicals or even gunshot that is left in the carrion, ends up in the condor. While poison or other hazards is bad for the animals lower on the food chain, by being the ultimate consumer the damage is multiplied every time the condor eats. So condors get sick from lead poisoning (gun shot pellets); poisons and chemicals are passed on to the eggs, which makes the eggshells too fragile to allow the baby chicks to be born; and some people who see the condors eating dead livestock try to harm the birds (which is MAJORLY against the law) because they think the condors killed the animals.

Due to very hard working and dedicated scientists and friends-of-condors, today there over 100 of the large birds In their natural environment, where they can live up to sixty years old. But with the challenges they face – now we can add power lines and windmills to the risks the birds have to overcome – 100 birds is not a lot and any natural or man-made disaster could be too much for the species to survive.

California condor  USFWS

The dead-flesh-eating Condor. Our last line of defense against zombie outbreak.

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