The California Condor once roamed the skies of the great west in vast numbers. The largest of the birds of North America, at one time their population had shrunk to a scant 22 in the entire world. Thanks to a concerted effort, Gymnogyps californianus is a revitalized breed. The release planned for the Redwoods region of far northern California is not only one of conservation but a spiritual endeavor as well. In one to three years, members of the Yurok Tribe will be releasing California Condors that were bred in captivity.
To the Yurok Tribe, the California Condor is a sacred animal. As a carrier of prayers, the huge bird is said to be able to fly closer to the sun than any other. The Yurok have used its’ feathers during ceremonies, singing its’ songs as they pray and fast for World Renewal. The return of the California Condor brings with it hope for a better balanced future for all.
The California Condor is a carrion eater. They feast primarily on large carcasses, like deer and sheep. Carrion eaters, such as vultures and condors are an integral part of any ecosystem. They are essentially the ones who clean up the place. With their impressive wingspan of approximately nine feet, this bird is able to fly as high as 15,000 feet and travel 150 miles a day.
In May, 2013, there were 435 condors, 237 in Arizona, California and Baja, Mexico. They prefer to live in rocky, forested areas and will nest in caves or crevasses. When they breed, they only have one egg at a time, which has contributed to the slow growth of their numbers. However, they are able to dote on their offspring, which helps lead to a better chance of survival.
The Yurok Tribe has been granted permission to release some California Condors in an as yet to be declared part of the Redwood National and State Parks. The first official releases will not occur for at least another year, but there will be some trial releases once a locale has been decided upon. This will serve to determine whether the area can sustain the newly introduced species. The California Condor has not flown over the skies of this part of the country in well over a century.
As part of the feasibility of reintroduction study, biologists will be taking blood samples from Turkey Vultures in order to determine levels of lead. They will also be taking samples from seals and sea lions to test for the presence of pesticides like DDT and DDE. Researchers will be mapping potential habitats and reaching out to the hunting community for educational purposes. Much work has and will go into making sure that the California Condors are placed in an absolutely appropriate environment that will nurture their long-term success.
The Yurok Tribe is also helping other species as part of their work to bring sustainability and balance back into the world. They believe it is their responsibility to do everything in their power to establish a way of life that reunites the human and animal worlds. With their release of California Condors, the Yurok Tribe is attempting to prove that their vision is a great possibility.
by Stacy Lamy