Gravitas: California Condor
(Pen and ink by Narca)
We –– the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, together with Naturalist Journeys –– plan to explore Arizona's condor country in early September, and we have a couple of spots left on the tour. I'll be co-leading this trip with the Center's John Gallagher. Would you like to join us?
Condors are today a relict species, their range shrunk from their glory days in the Pleistocene, when megafauna like Giant Ground Sloths provided abundant carrion for the condors' repast. Today they hang on to a precarious existence –– lead poisoning remains a serious threat –– while a dedicated crew of field biologists continues to work to assure their survival.
From a population low of 22 individuals in 1982, captive breeding-and-release efforts have built their numbers up to over 300 birds, with about half of those flying free in the wild today, in California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja California.
In December 1996, six young captive-bred California Condors were released at the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon. More annual releases have augmented that first group of six, and the condors are now nesting successfully on their own in caves in the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs. Today more than 70 condors soar over the rimrock.
Rim of the Grand Canyon (Photo by Peg Abbott)
It's always a treat for me to return to Condor Country –– a treat that goes beyond the magnificent scenery and wildlife encounters. Two of the newer national monuments which protect this habitat for condors and all their relations were signed into law by Clinton in 2000, and my sister Kelly Burke, working with biologist Larry Stevens, figured out the boundaries for those two national monuments –– Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Canyon-Parashant –– based on factors like watersheds and animal migrations. Kelly and Larry did this work through Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.
A new effort is now underway to connect the Vermilion Cliffs to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument via the Kaibab-Paunsagunt Wildlife Corridor, with the goal of forming one large national monument that will encompass these smaller monuments. It will be called Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. If you would like to support this effort to link existing monuments, you can sign this petition.
Condors will be our primary focus on the September trip, but as always, we'll investigate whatever crosses our path. If you'd like more information, you can find it here and here.