Monday, October 7, 2013

Scavenger Hunt

A few months ago I had the opportunity to watch a very interesting documentary about how biologists and hunters in California are collaborating to save the California condor from extinction. 

“Scavenger Hunt,” was produced by Boise non-profit Wild Lens, featuring Chris Parish of The Peregrine Fund
The film is called “Scavenger Hunt” and is the first of its kind that I have seen that actually credits hunters for their conservation efforts.  At the same time, it is a very well done educational piece that explains to hunters the many reasons why they should consider switching to lead-alternative ammunitions (if they haven’t already). 

Of course, their main focus is to prevent species like the California Condor from going extinct, as they feed on carcasses that many times contain lead fragments.  These lead particles and fragments can also be consumed by hunters and their families.

Xray of a California Condor - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
This film follows biologists that survey the condors and depicts what really goes on in the field.  They not only observe these birds from afar, but they track them extensively and capture each numbered bird once or twice a year to test their blood levels for lead exposure.  I don’t want to give away all of the details of the film, but unfortunately despite all best efforts, sometimes intervention comes too late.

Flying California Condor - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
In 1981 there were only 21 California Condors left in the wild.  Today, through captive breeding programs and conservation efforts, those numbers have increased to over 200 in the wild.  That is a great improvement from where they were, but at only 200, the wild population is still at a huge risk for extinction. 

Adult Condors in nest cave - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
The life of a California condor is not an easy one.  A pair must spend 57 days working on incubating an egg.  Then it takes 5 – 6 months of development before the chick is ready to try its wings.  The youngster may remain dependent on their parents for up to a year after fledging.  Wild Condors will usually only raise one chick every two years.  This one chick will take around 6 – 8 years to begin breeding attempts.  Reproductive rates are low for Condors, and much time and effort is dedicated by both the Condor parents and by biologists who try and do everything possible to make sure that the egg hatches, the chick fledges and one day has offspring of its own.

Perched California Condors, juvenile and adult - Photo courtesy of The Peregrine Fund/Chris Parish
The state of California banned the use of lead ammunition in 2008 in the 8 counties in which California Condors are found.  This has also helped reduce lead levels in other birds of prey, such as Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures.  These 2 species have smaller territories and a more varied diet.  Banning lead ammunition in the 8 counties, though, does not seem to have improved things much for the Condors.  Condors can eat from 75 – 100 carcasses per year, and even a single exposure to lead can be deadly.  They can fly over 200 miles a day, which is beyond the counties in which lead is banned.

Of course, any time you mention guns or ammunition these days, people get uncomfortable and sometimes even hot under the collar.  I believe that this film fairly represents both sides of the issues, allowing the viewer to come to an educated and ethical conclusion of their own.

For more information on this film, Click Here.

For information about alternatives to lead ammunition,  Click Here.

For other resources about condors and lead, check out the Institute for Wildlife Studies Here.

Submitted by Billie Baumann, World Bird Sanctuary Outreach Coordinator

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