Twenty-eight years ago, the California condor was declared almost extinct in the wild. This year, the thousandth condor chick officially hatched in the Southwest.
When the California condor became critically endangered the 1980s, with fewer than two dozen condors left in the world, conservationists decided to act and rounded up the remaining condors to begin breeding them in captivity.
Now, the fruits of their efforts are showing, as their population in central California has ticked above 100 and their total population throughout the southwest of the United States is well over 300 and still increasing. Including the captivity breeding programs, there are now more than 500 condors in the world.
The majestic bird is one of the longest living bird species, with an average lifespan of 60 years, used to be revered by Native Americans. It is believed that the Native Americans presented British invaders with condor feathers to welcome them into their territory. To Native Americans, condors where powerful enough to infuse humans with special powers and control cosmic events, and even though they no longer have mainstream popularity, the California condor still possesses a number of qualities that make it special.
“Condors are one of the very unique species of birds in North America and in the world, for that matter. They’re extremely personable,” Tim Hauck, the condor program manager at the Peregrine Fund told NPR. “They’ll have individual personalities. And as biologists, we really get to know these birds on a one-to-one level, so they end up meaning quite a bit to us, and we get quite attached.”
Even though the fight against condor extinction isn’t over, California condors are now close to reaching the recovery goals set by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1996. And if all goes well, conservationists may soon be able to celebrate downlisting condors from endangered to threatened.