Today is International Vulture Awareness Day, and because I am a huge bird lover, I was excited for the opportunity to participate. Vultures are finally getting the respect they deserve after years of being viewed as a creepy symbol of death and decay. Of course, their unsavoury scavenging habits are actually an important part of a healthy ecology; without them, corpses are left to rot and infections are more easily spread.
There are about 20 different species of vultures, and the majority of them qualify as rare, threatened, endangered, and even extinct. In honour of IVAD, I’m going to discuss one of the most famous endangered vulture species.
In North America, of course, that species is the California Condor, a magnificent bird who is extinct in the wild with the exception of 172 captive-bred, released birds. (There are another 150 living in captivity. ) This is a remarkable number considering the fact that in the mid-1980′s, there were 3 left in the wild and 22 in captivity. Environmental groups have been working hard to monitor the success of these 322 individuals.
What happened to cause these amazing birds–who happen to have one of the largest wingspans in the world, and the largest in N. America, at close to 10 feet–to become so severely endangered? The largest factors have been poaching, DDT poisoning, habitat destruction (largely due to animal agriculture), and lead poisoning. The last occurred as a result of eating the corpses of animals killed with lead bullets. It took until 2008–yes, last year–to require hunters to use non-lead bullets in the condors’ range, but my understanding is that the majority of them have been fairly cooperative.
I would be lax in discussing the California condor without also mentioning that not all environmentalists were in favour of capturing the last 3 wild birds–for this is what was done–and attempting to revive the species in captivity. I am against zoos and keeping animals in captivity in general, and I am unsure about this situation. I feel that perhaps it would be reasonable and logical if we were eliminating the major threats that face California condors, but we haven’t. The released birds continue to be threatened by the aforementioned habitat destruction, power lines, (captive-bred condors have been trained fairly successfully to avoid human beings and power lines, but for how long can this be done?) , and hunting. Yes, people continue to kill these birds in the most direct way possible.
Obviously this is a massive, massive topic and I have blabbed about it long enough, but if you want to learn more about California condors I would suggest checking out the Wikipedia page, which is particularly informative, and Vulture-Territory.com, which brings up the interesting idea that perhaps the condors hit their evolutionary peak hundreds of thousands of years ago and were on their way out anyway.
If you are interested in helping the condors out, though–or any endangered animal, for that matter–check out this page from the Toronto Vegetarian Association and learn about the undeniable link between animal agriculture and the destruction of wild habitats. (Hey, even the U.N. says that it’s “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.”)
Thanks for reading and happy IVAD!