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Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor.

  • Feb 10, 2010
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A bit more than two decades ago the actual number of California condors had dwindled to roughly two dozen birds.  If the species was to avoid extinction drastic measures were called for.  There were many schools of thought as to how to deal with this impending environmental tragedy.  Some even opined that the it would be best to just let the condor simply fade into history.  "Condor: To The Brink And Back--The Life and Times of One Giant Bird" chronicles the struggles of those groups and individuals who were determined to save these ancient birds from almost certain extinction.  Author John Nielson offers up a fairly comprehesive history of the species and explains the circumstances that nearly wiped the California condor from the face of the earth.

As Nielson explains, the California condor is a relic from the Pleistocene era.  In those prehistoric times giant North American mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths and oversize bison roamed vast areas of what would eventually become the American West.  And so there was no shortage of carcasses available to scavengers like ravens, vultures and much larger birds like the California condor.  When these giant creatures succumbed to a cataclysmic enviromental event some 10000 years ago one might expect that the California condor would be doomed as well.  This is a logical assumption but what I was quite surprised to learn in "Condor" is that what actually saved these birds along the California coast were whalesNow condors would feed on the carcasses of dead whales that washed up on shore.  Add the huge numbers of sea lions and seals to the available food supply and the California condor would be just fine after all.  That is until events like the Gold Rush of 1849 would change the landscape of this previously wild territory forever.

Fast forward to the 1980's.  So much had happened over the previous 130 years and just about all of it to the detriment of the California condor.  If drastic action was not taken right away then the conventional wisdom was that condors would be extinct within 20 years.  There are only 24 birds left!   Most environmentalists favor a plan to capture all the remaining birds to breed in captivity. However, a minority of environmentalists considered this concept to be absolutely outrageous and bitterly opposed the plan.   In "Condor"  John Nielson introduces us to leading figures on both sides of this controversial question.  He chronicles what steps were eventually taken and opines how things have turned out thus far.  He also speculates on the uncertain future these colossal creatures face in the 21st century.

For the most part I found "Condor:  To The Brink and Back--The Life and Times of One Giant Bird" to be absolutely captivating.   The struggle to save this ancient species is just one small facet of the ongoing debate over environmental policy in this country.   We all need to read more about such issues so that we might make more informed decisions at the ballot box.  John Nielson has given us a book that is at once very readable, highly informative and quite entertaining to boot.    Recommended reading.
Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor. Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor. Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor. Issues abound in the struggle to save the magnificent California condor.

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Book Description

The California condor
has been described as a bird
"with one wing in the grave."

Flying on wings nearly ten feet wide from tip to tip, these birds thrived on the carcasses of animals like woolly mammoths. Then, as humans began dramatically reshaping North America, the continent's largest flying land bird started disappearing. By the beginning of the twentieth century, extinction seemed inevitable.

But small groups of passionate individuals refused to allow the condor to fade away, even as they fought over how and why the bird was to be saved. Scientists, farmers, developers, bird lovers, and government bureaucrats argued bitterly and often, in the process injuring one another and the species they were trying to save. In the late 1980s, the federal government made a wrenching decision -- the last remaining wild condors would be caught and taken to a pair of zoos, where they would be encouraged to breed with other captive condors.

Livid critics called the plan a recipe for extinction. After the zoo-based populations soared, the condors were released in the mountains of south-central California, and then into the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, and Baja California. Today the giant birds are nowhere near extinct.

The giant bird with "one wing in the grave" appears to be recovering, even as the wildlands it needs keep disappearing. But the story of this bird is more than the story of a vulture with a giant wingspan -- it is also the story of a wild and giant ...

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ISBN-10: 0060088621
ISBN-13: 978-0060088620
Author: John Nielson
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Published: February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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