Faulty practices threaten condor program

Current releases of captive California condors into the wild will probably fail unless changes in the program are made soon, according to a study that will be reported in the August issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

Captive rearing techniques are producing excessively tame condors that pose threats to humans, and the released birds are at constant risk of death by lead poisoning from eating carcasses contaminated with bullet fragments, which was a main cause of the extinction of wild condors in the 1980s.

"Many condors are reared in captivity by humans using condor-shaped puppets, and this has created birds that readily approach people, cars and buildings," said Vicky Meretsky, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and lead author of the journal article. In the past year there have been repeated instances of condors prying shingles off buildings, destroying camping equipment, and approaching people for food handouts, Meretsky said.

"Behavioral problems have been common in released young condors that were taken from their parents and reared by puppets in isolation, but not in young condors that were raised by their parents. Unfortunately, despite this important difference, program managers have continued to release puppet-reared birds to the wild instead of limiting releases to parent-reared birds," she said.

The other authors of the article are Noel Snyder of Wildlife Preservation Trust International; Associate Professor Steven Beissinger of the Department of Environmental Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley; David Clendenen of Wind Wolves Preserve; and James Wiley of the Grambling Cooperative Wildlife Project, Grambling State University.

Lead poisoning was a major factor responsible for the extinction of the wild condor population in the mid-1980s, and it is again killing condors because releases have been conducted without attempting to solve t

Contact: Hal Kibbey
Indiana University

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