Condors: back from the brink

Hopes for the endangered vultures' survival soared recently after six captive birds were released on a clifftop in the Arizona wilds

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Not all that long ago, the California condor was widely regarded as one of the nation's leading candidates for extinction. Today, thanks to captive breeding and reintroductions in the wild, the huge raptor is making a strong bid to rebuild its numbers and reclaim its old territories. The most recent reintroduction, and the first one involving California condors outside their "native" state, took place last December at Vermillion Cliffs in northwestern Arizona, where a population once existed. It was a success. Five of the six birds are making it on their own; one was killed in a clash with a golden eagle.

Captive-bred young condors are raised by adult birds and conditioned to avoid humans. Before the six birds were released in Arizona last winter, they were acclimatized to their new home in a flying pen and hack box atop a 1,000-foot cliff. Since their release, they have been sustained by carcasses put out for them by a team of scientists who are monitoring their every move. Scientists running the condor-recovery program hope to establish two viable populations in the wild — one in California and one in Arizona.

Uncle Sam and conservation groups have spent millions on condor-recovery in these two states. The difference is that the Feds were mainly responsible for operating the California program whereas the Arizona project is staffed by the Peregrine Fund, a private organization with headquarters at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

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