Without hunting or electrical networks, the nature reserves of Baja California, in northern Mexico, are the ideal setting for the Californian condor to reestablish itself.
In the 80s, the future painted arid for the california condor. After nearly a century of intense hunting, populations throughout the West Coast of the United States had been reduced to historic lows. Some records indicated that there were just over 120 left worldwide. Others, just 60, according to Nacho Vilchis, a conservationist at the San Diego Zoo.
Since then, the institution has titanic efforts to restore the species in the country. Hand in hand with the native communities of California, after 130 years of being close to the threshold of extinction, the California condor can stretch its wings againamong the western forests of the United States.
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Between 20 and 30 new condors a year
After training as an oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Nacho Vichis decided to focus on seabirds. Upon completion of her postdoc in marine conservation, she joined the San Diego Zoo to start a rescue project for the California condor. The specialist has collaborated with the institution for 8 years to make populations healthier, and its figures, more solid:
“In the 1980s, conservationists and the Fishing Wildlife Service decided to capture all the condors to bring them to captive breeding centers,” says Vilchis. “That’s where the recovery project began.”
By 1992, says the specialist, they began to release the condors in california national parks. The same was tried in Arizona and Utah, with close supervision from the zoo. Currently, after this gradual territorial expansion, there are 6 release sites. According to Vilchis, each year between 20 and 30 new specimens are bornwho stay with their parents until they can be independent.
Over time, the San Diego Zoo forged alliances with Mexican authorities to expand teven more the horizons of the california condor. In Baja California, conservationists think, the species has a good chance of gaining strength.
Take to the skies of Baja California
Mexico is considered as a fundamental territory for the Californian condor to regain strength. Especially in Baja California, in the north of the country. Since 2002, the institution has collaborated with the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) to Introduce the California Condor to Mexico.
With the Action Program for the Conservation of the Species (PACE), explain the Mexican authorities, it was proposed to release “California condors in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park.” This translates to more than 72 thousand hectares so that the species can reappropriate the territory released, documents a SEMARNAT report.
No bullets and no people
For 2 decades, efforts have been more than successful. This is so because the natural history of Mexico has allowed it:
«The site has to be wide, because the condors look for carrion. Before, there were more predators that left remains for the birds. Today, there has to be more space for them to find food,” explains Vilchis.
Another of the fundamental points is that the space has to be “free of people and power lines«, specifies the specialist. Especially, to avoid hunting. Not only of the condors, but of the other animals victims of bullets. This is so because lead and other toxic substances remain impregnated in the meat, and harm animals that eat carcasses.
100 years ago, the condors they suffered from hunting in their own flesh. A century later, they continue to suffer from human activity, which now makes their basic power supplies are contaminated. However, the natural areas of Mexico allow these obstacles to disappear.
Slow but safe
Currently, the biggest challenge for California condors is reproduction. “In the best of cases,” explains Vilchis, “a female will lay an egg every year and a half, because does not lay another until chick can be independent«. Therefore, “any mortality affects them greatly,” concludes the specialist.
Although the reproductive rate is slow for California condors, the reinsertion project in Mexico allows now that the species breathes new air. “The goal is to recover the species in its historical range,” emphasizes Vilchis. «From Canada to Baja California. Mexico is part of this: and the release site here is the best ever«.
The mythical California condor will fly again after a century of absence
Two female condors reproduce asexually even in the presence of males