1 Tahrcountry Musings: Seal Meat and California Condor conservation

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Seal Meat and California Condor conservation

With its total wild population currently standing at 130, California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) remains one of the world's most endangered birds. Writing this week in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Page Chamberlain, professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University in California, brings out interesting features about dietary preferences of Condors and how a change in diet can help their conservation. By comparing carbon and nitrogen traces in the birds' feathers and bones researchers were able to tell whether condors historically ate remains of land or marine mammals. The analysis of modern, historic (1800 to 1965), and prehistoric (up to 36,000 years ago) condor remains revealed major shifts in the bird's diet since the last ice age, which ended around 8,000 years ago. It switched from land to marine and back to land. The study team now recommends reacquainting California condors with marine-mammal meat as part of efforts to establish viable condor populations in the U.S. Loss of habitat for large mammals in the Central Valley and southern California would most certainly reduce the possible food sources for wild condors. The California sea lion population is increasing by 5 to 6 percent a year, with total numbers up to around 240,000, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Chamberlain says, “If condors can tap into this food source, the prospects of the birds spreading across their former West Coast range are excellent." Scientists aim to encourage the birds to eat seal carcasses by setting up holding and release sites near these rookeries. The initial results of the experiment is very encouraging.

No comments: