The California condor is the largest bird in North America. With their nearly 10 foot wingspans, these majestic scavengers have never had any real natural predators, yet they became nearly extinct just a few decades ago.
California condors were plentiful throughout the southwest United States and northern Mexico until relatively recently. However, loss of habitat, egg poaching, and incorrect assumptions by ranchers who thought the massive birds had actually killed the livestock carcasses they were feeding on led to the California condor’s decline. This combined with the fact that the birds mature and reproduce very slowly meant that even after the species received protection, populations did not recover.
In 1987, conservationists made the unprecedented move of capturing all 22 California condors remaining in the wild for a captive breeding program at California Zoos at a cost of 35 million dollars. By 1991, the birds began being reintroduced in the wild at national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in California and Arizona. California condors can live up to 60 years, and as of April, 2011, there are 181 of them living in the wild, with an additional 200 in captivity. Hopefully this majestic animal, a symbol for the southwest its native tribes, will flourish again in years to come.