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← How we brought the condor back from the brink | Michael Mace | TEDxDeExtinction

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Showing Revision 33 created 07/15/2020 by David DeRuwe.

  1. The California condor was pushed
    to the brink of extinction
  2. when there were only 22 birds
    left in the world.
  3. Imagine that!
  4. 22.
  5. This was because of pressures
    put on by human activities.
  6. The condor dates back to the Pleistocene.

  7. So some of the animals that have been
    talked about today that lived in the day:
  8. Harlan's giant sloth, the American
    mastodon, the saber-toothed cat.
  9. The condor lived among those.
  10. Can you imagine?
  11. But it was the only one of them
    to survive to today.
  12. After 10,000 years, fossil records show
  13. that it was in upstate New York
    and northern Florida.
  14. And then as European settlers
    pushed across the country,
  15. its last stronghold
    was from Vancouver to Baja Mexico.
  16. The condor is unique.
  17. It's the largest flying bird
    in North America
  18. with a nine-and-a-half foot wingspan -
    that's two feet more than this.
  19. It lives more than 60 years.
  20. As a K-select species,
    it has a slow reproductive rate.
  21. And it's sexually mature
    about five to six years.
  22. After those 10,000 years,

  23. in 1987, there was a great debate.
  24. The condor was declining
    at such a rapid rate,
  25. there was fear of losing it
    to extinction.
  26. It was from contaminants in the wild,
    such as lead and DDT,
  27. and electrocutions and collisions
    with power lines and power polls.
  28. On one hand, a group
    of people were saying,
  29. "Let the species die in dignity."
  30. On the other hand,
  31. a group of people saying this
    was not a naturally occurring extinction,
  32. and that we had
    a responsibility to intervene.
  33. So after lawsuits and debates,
    the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  34. took the bold step
    of safeguarding the condor
  35. while some of these issues were being
    resolved by placing the remaining birds
  36. in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
    in Los Angeles Zoo.
  37. After 10,000 years,
    the condor was extinct in the wild.
  38. Now, you can imagine the weight
    on those two zoos
  39. with given these birds to care for
  40. and making sure they didn't go
    extinct on our watch.
  41. We had to draw on a variety of resources.
  42. We had to use what I call
    "Conservation innovation,"
  43. literally writing the book
    as we were trying to save the species.
  44. We had to draw on our own experience
    working with closely related species
  45. like the Andean condor
    and other avian species.
  46. But we had to quickly assemble
    a variety of resources and science.
  47. We had to design and construct breeding
    centers like this one at the safari park.
  48. This is a series of aviaries
    with nest chambers associated with it.
  49. There were folks who said we would never
    be able to breed this species in a zoo.
  50. The entire goal was always
    to release the bird back into the wild.
  51. So we had to take certain steps
    as we progressed towards that.

  52. We had to even design in the facility,
    you can see in this slide,
  53. [concertina] wire on the top
    of the perimeter fence.
  54. The reason for that is the debate
    was so contentious about condors
  55. that people were threatening to break in
  56. and release the condors
    back into harm's way.
  57. I can remember spending a few nights
    myself out at the park,
  58. making sure that didn't happen.
  59. We had to employ techniques
    like double-clutching.

  60. In the wild, a condor raises
    one chick every two years.
  61. But by using this technique
    of double-clutching,
  62. we removed the first egg
  63. and placed it safely in an incubator
  64. and then hatched it.
  65. That allowed the parents to raise
    what's called a replacement egg.
  66. So in that same two-year period,
  67. we were able to produce four chicks
    instead of just one.
  68. Now, we were concerned
    about the birds imprinting.

  69. Again, the goal of releasing them
    back into the wild.
  70. And so we developed hand puppets.
  71. And just to the side on that hand puppet
    is one of our dedicated keeper staff,
  72. working round the clock
    to feed and care for that chick.
  73. That puppet became its lifeline:
  74. It fed the chick,
  75. it socialized with the chick,
  76. and it played with the chick.
  77. At some point in that chick's life,
    it is placed in an area
  78. where it had the chance to look out
    through a portal and see other condors,
  79. so that it starts to understand
    what it's going to be.
  80. During this process - that's about
    six months from the time it's hatched
  81. until the time it's fledged.
  82. And sometimes when we fledge them
  83. if they're not fledging
    with their parents,
  84. they're fledging them with mentors.
  85. Again the goal of reestablishing
    the species in the wild.
  86. In our labs at the San Diego Zoo,
    Center for Conservation Research,

  87. we had to make sure that we addressed
    the issues of genetics.
  88. When the population was just at 22 birds,
    every individual was mapped genetically,
  89. so we knew the relatedness to each other.
  90. This was paramount when you're dealing
    with such a small population
  91. because we know the effects
    of inbreeding with other species.
  92. Once those identifiers were made,
    then we took computer models,
  93. and we put all that data in there.
  94. And then from there,
    the parents were determined.
  95. Now fortunately, condors
    are very user-friendly this way.
  96. When we put just two birds together,
    just based on data and not behavior,
  97. most times they reproduced.
  98. This was imperative.
  99. Also in those same labs,
  100. for the first time,
  101. a process was developed to determine
    the gender of birds using DNA.
  102. This was from membranes
    left in the hatched eggs.
  103. This was really important for us also
  104. as we started to establish
    those new pairings
  105. that we were able to put them together
    at the appropriate ages
  106. because otherwise we'd have
    to wait five or six years
  107. to be sexually mature
    to know what genders they were.
  108. Also, in genetically managing
    the population, we had to make sure
  109. that as we established
    new breeding centers,
  110. and we started to put birds back out
  111. into various release sites
    in California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico,
  112. that we wanted to replicate the genes,
  113. so in the event there
    was a catastrophic event
  114. like a wild fire or a disease outbreak,
    we had safeguarded all the genetic lines.
  115. Now, some of the known factors
    that I mentioned with causing

  116. the demise and decline of condors
    was the collision with power lines
  117. and roosting on power structures.
  118. Now you ask, "Roosting on a power
    structure, a lot of birds do that?"
  119. But with a nine-and-a-half foot wingspan,
    they would touch wires and transformers,
  120. and electrocute themselves.
  121. So we used a technique,
  122. working with a local utility company
    to receive power poles.
  123. These mock power poles, we would then
    wire to deliver a mild electric charge.
  124. Condors are a very bright species,
    very inquisitive.
  125. Bright enough to know that if it landed
    on one of those power poles
  126. and received a shock once or twice,
    they would stop that behavior.
  127. That behavior modification directly
    translated to what happened in the field.
  128. When we released condors
    back into the wild,
  129. they stopped roosting on some of those
    areas that had been hazardous to them.
  130. Now, they still flew
    into some power lines,
  131. and the reason for that
    is when you evolve like a condor,
  132. and you make your living
    by riding thermals,
  133. you don't need to look ahead
    when you're a thousand feet in the air.
  134. And when you came up
    to a ridgeline riding a thermal
  135. and there was a power line,
    it would create these collisions.
  136. But the utility companies,
    once they realized that,
  137. started to bury their power lines
    in those key areas.
  138. Now, in a program like this
    that's been going on for thirty years,
  139. some of these factors you can anticipate,
  140. some you can't.
  141. No one could've predicted

  142. that West Nile virus would arrive
    in the United States in 1999,
  143. and quickly sweep across the country,
  144. taking with it human life,
    as well as a lot of avian species.
  145. And the condors were not immune.
    We lost condors to West Nile virus.
  146. But the Center for Disease Control
    developed a vaccine that we used
  147. that required us to vaccinate
    every condor in the population.
  148. Easy to say, but more difficult to do
  149. when you've got birds in the wild
    as well as in the breeding centers.
  150. And once they're vaccinated, then
    they have to receive a booster every year.
  151. Rather monumental thing that we have
    to do but to safeguard the population.
  152. Now, one of the things
    that we also learned

  153. is the environment that we're putting
    condors back into was fairly dirty.
  154. And we underestimated that.
  155. This is what we call microtrash.
  156. It's items that people leave behind
    when they're out enjoying nature.
  157. It's bottle caps and pieces of glass
    and plastic and electrical devices.
  158. And you can see by this radiograph
    that microtrash in the body of a condor.
  159. It requires surgery to remove it.
  160. For the parents,
    they ingest this microtrash.
  161. We're not completely certain why,
    but the theory is that condors,
  162. during certain times, take in small
    pieces of bone for calcium,
  163. particularly when females
    are getting ready to lay an egg.
  164. That behavior seems to have drifted
    to picking up these small pieces
  165. of what they believe are bone,
    and it's actually microtrash.
  166. Now, condors serve an
    important ecological niche.
  167. They're a scavenging species.
  168. Why that's important is because
    they clean up the environment
  169. when an animal dies.
  170. They go down and feed on those carcasses.
  171. Growing in those carcasses
    are toxins like botulism and anthrax.
  172. Those are harmful to us; they're certainly
    harmful to other species of wildlife.
  173. And condors are immune to these
    types of toxins, and so they clean it up.
  174. But in that behavior,
    they're indiscriminate feeders
  175. when they're feeding on a carcass.
  176. They're ingesting tissue and organ,
    and small pieces of bone.
  177. And sometimes they ingest lead -
    lead from sport hunting.

  178. Now, I have to tell you that hunters
    have been on this planet
  179. since the dawn of man.
  180. And the hunting community generates
    8 billion dollars a year for conservation.
  181. And it's important that programs
    like that are sustainable.
  182. But as condors ingest this lead,
    it's toxic to them,
  183. as it is to other life forms.
  184. This is a radiograph of a piece of lead
    that was taken out of a condor.
  185. Now, some of our greatest
    conservationists, I have to say,
  186. people like John James Audubon, President
    Theodore Roosevelt, were avid hunters,
  187. but they were more passionate
  188. So it isn't a issue of sport hunting;
    it's an issue of toxin in an environment.
  189. And one of the ways
    that it is is through lead.
  190. We've had lead in other products.
    We've had lead in paint.
  191. And we found out that children
    mouthing on their toys,
  192. chewing on their cribs,
  193. were ingesting lead through paint.
  194. And it was removed from that product.
    It was removed from gasoline.
  195. Lead was even removed from shotgun shells
    and replaced with steel
  196. because it was causing
    problems with waterfowl.
  197. So we have the ability to make adjustments
    in programs like this
  198. as it affects wildlife and humans.
  199. Now, in a program like this,
    we also have to anticipate

  200. what the next challenge might be.
  201. And I have to say that with wind turbines
    coming into United States,
  202. it is a good green initiative to reduce
    our consumption of fossil fuels.
  203. And wind energy
    is one of those alternatives.
  204. And to date, there's never been
    a condor taken by a turbine.
  205. But turbines have affected
    other raptors like eagles and hawks.
  206. And so we're working
    with utility companies,
  207. these wind energy companies,
  208. to develop techniques
    to reduce the threat.
  209. One way to do that is looking at condors
    and how they utilize their habitat
  210. through spatial ecology.
  211. That's not just looking at how condors fly
    north, south, east and west,
  212. but how they fly in that
    third dimension, in elevation,
  213. and working with companies to see
    if they're willing to adjust the field,
  214. based on a condor's activity
  215. and understanding why condors
    use the habitat that they use.
  216. That's part of the research
    that's going on.
  217. Another way that we're working
    with utility companies
  218. is early detection systems.
  219. Condors outfitted with devices
    that would send a signal
  220. as they proceeded
    towards a turbine field -
  221. one that's existing
    or one that's in planning.
  222. What that would allow
    those energy companies to do
  223. is turn down or turn off those turbines
    as those condors were flying through.
  224. In a program like this,
    it is imperative to have collaboration
  225. from so many different people
    and organizations.
  226. No one entity can do it by themselves,
  227. but collectively it's,
    as we've seen, possible.
  228. So where are we today?

  229. We started with 22 condors
    left in the world.
  230. Now we have more than 400,
  231. more than half of those flying free
  232. in the skies of California,
    Arizona and Baja, Mexico.
  233. The program has gone full cycle.
  234. Whereas you can see, there's
    an egg in the wild that's about to hatch.
  235. That dark spot
    on that egg is a "pip" site.
  236. That is a chick about to emerge.
  237. And the picture on the bottom right shows
    a chick that hatched in the wild.
  238. Birds that were raised in zoos
    and breeding centers and released
  239. are now carrying out the life cycle
    themselves in the wild.
  240. So people ask me all the time, "Why?"

  241. And we've heard this today,
  242. "Why spend so much resource
    and so much energy to save a species?"
  243. If you look at these species like condors
    and pandas and elephant and tiger,
  244. we share the same environments
    around this planet as they do.
  245. We live in the same places.
  246. If you look at them as environmental
    indicators, they're telling us
  247. how healthy the environment is
    that we share with them.
  248. What we've got to do
    is listen to what they're saying
  249. We have the ability to affect change.
  250. We've seen that.
  251. We've had the ability
    to affect change around the world.
  252. We just have to make sure
    that we continue those efforts
  253. because it is all possible.
  254. Thank you.
  255. (Applause)