Positive sign for endangered species
Special to the Courier
Originally Published: August 9, 2007 8:08 p.m.
Within the past six weeks, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials confirmed endangered captive-bred California condors produced a chick at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona near the state's border with Utah.Biologists also believe the Grand Canyon may house another chick, bringing the total number of condor chicks hatched in the wilds of Arizona to six confirmed, and seven probable, over the past 11 years.This year, two other condor pairs attempted to nest in this state, but they were unsuccessful. Typically, these condors are 6 years old or older the first time they attempt to breed and pairs commonly do not succeed until they are 8 years old.The condor is the largest flying bird in North America. Adult birds can weigh as much as 26 pounds with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet.In 1996, biologists first re-introduced endangered California condors in northern Arizona as part of a cooperative recovery program conducted by federal, state and private partners.Sixty-nine condors, including 59 in the wild and 10 awaiting release, live in Arizona. Visitors to the Grand Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs may spot the birds, particularly during the spring and summer months.Chris Parish, a biologist for The Peregrine Fund - a Boise, Idaho-based international conservation organization that breeds and recovers endangered birds of prey around the world - is leading a peregrine recovery effort in Arizona.He said the California condor chick sighting at the Vermilion Cliffs in late June is a positive sign."This confirmed visual allows for a brief sigh of relief," Parish said. "The next big step, however, will be after the chick fledges and integrates into the wild flock. One step at a time."The Vermilion Cliffs chick is the second offspring for a pair of condors at the national monument. Field biologists discovered the chick after observing nesting behavior in May.By early June, biologists suspected a chick had hatched because its parents were foraging for food and promptly returning to a cave where they live.Peregrine Fund field manager Eddie Feltes watched this foraging behavior continue for three weeks. He subsequently rappelled down the face of a cliff and confirmed the presence of a healthy young bird after peeking inside its cave.The other chick that likely hatched this summer would represent the first for a pair nesting in a remote canyon at the Grand Canyon. Biologists have not seen the chick, but they are optimistic it is alive based on the parents' behavior."With each wild chick hatched, the original condor reintroduction concerns of whether the condor could even be successfully recovered have been answered," said Kathy Sullivan, a lead biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department's condor program. "The program is making great strides. However, this chick and the entire flock face many challenges that must be overcome to achieve a self-sustaining population."Arizona Game and Fish officials said they expect the chicks to fledge in December when they are about six months old. Four out of the five previously wild-hatched chicks have survived and assimilated into the flock."These hatchlings are a significant step in recovering a magnificent bird," said Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Wild-hatched condors are part of the plan for re-establishing a truly wild population of California condors."Game and Fish Department officials say lead toxicity from hunters' spent ammunition is the greatest obstacle to a self-sustaining condor population. These same officials are presently helping to put together cooperative efforts among different agencies to reduce mortality rates from lead contamination in condors.In 2005 Arizona Game and Fish started offering a free non-lead ammunition program to hunters in an attempt to reduce lead exposure for wild condors. Although hunters have responded favorably to using non-lead ammunition in condor range, Game and Fish officials want to expand adoption of the effort to further reduce lead exposure and mortality.In 1967 the federal government added condors to its endangered species list. Fifteen years later, in 1982, only 22 California condors still existed. In 1987 biologists removed the last birds from the wild for captive breeding to save the species from extinction.Today, there are more than 300 California condors, with almost half of those released to the wild in California, Mexico and the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona.The condor reintroduction effort in Arizona is a joint project of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Peregrine Fund, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, Kaibab National Forest and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.For more information about California condors, log on to the Internet at peregrinefund.org or the Arizona Game and Fish Department web site at azgfd.gov/condor.The Arizona Game and Fish Department contributed much of the information for this story.