The California condor species had endured the elements and rigors of life in nature’s arena of competition and thrived for some 11,000 years. By 1982, due to a variety of human caused circumstances, the condor population had been decimated and only 22 birds were known to be alive. Three years later a mere single breeding pair was all that was known to exist in the wild for the entire species. Extinction loomed.
As of 2010, after an aggressive captive breeding program and reintroduction to their native range, there exists 370 California condors 181 of which are flying free in the wild. Yet, though free, those condors in the wild are still very much hemmed in by humanity and continue to face many of the same existential threats that nearly ended their species forever.
Timeline of Tragedy
1890—Wild California condor population estimated at 600.
1940—Wild population estimate drops to 100. Species disappears in Mexico.
1960—No more than 60 California condors estimated to exist in the world.
1967—California condor listed as an endangered species under the precursor to today’s Endangered Species Act.
1975—To address the species’ decline, the California Condor Recovery Program is established, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Audubon Society, and also including the U.S. Forest Service, the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos, and the California Department of Fish and Game.
1982—Only 22 California condors known to exist. Conservationists begin to take condor chicks from the wild for captive rearing.
1983—Conservationists begin to remove eggs from the wild and hatch them in captivity. Chicks born in captivity are raised in boxes that simulate a cave environment and are fed by conservationists using condor hand puppets.
1985—Six wild condors disappear, leaving a single breeding pair in existence in the wild for the entire species. At this desperate point, the Fish and Wildlife Service makes the controversial decision to capture all remaining wild condors in an effort to keep them safe and begin a captive breeding program—a last ditch effort to save the species from extinction.
1987—The last wild condor is removed from the wild. At this point, the entire species population numbers 27 individuals.
Timeline quoted from United States Fish and Wildlife Service