El Condor Pasa
If you’re like us, you probably assume the biologists, veterinarians, technicians, and volunteers working tirelessly to save California condors from extinction do it because they care deeply about the condors and their place in the web of life. It turns out, though, that the real agenda of the Condor Recovery Program is to disarm the American people preparatory to imposing the enviro-fascist mandates of UN Agenda 21. That’s what we’ve been reading in the comment sections of dozens of online periodicals, anyway.
When we were growing up, condors were only a memory in Big Sur and most of the rest of California. Our parents never tired of telling us stories of the majestically soaring condors they recalled from their youth, but the only condor we ever saw was a forlorn lump of black feathers hunched in a dingy cage in San Francisco’s grimy Fleishhacker Zoo.
In the mid-80’s California’s wild condor population fell to as few as 9 birds and extinction seemed a certainty. When the last survivors were rounded up in a controversial last-ditch effort to save the species through captive breeding, it appeared extremely unlikely that anyone would ever see a condor in the California sky again.
Yet, through painstaking effort, and in spite of heartbreaking setbacks, the breeding program has succeeded in keeping the species alive for most of three decades. And, in recent years, the reintroduction program has even given us a chance to behold something we’d always assumed we’d been born too late to see: condors drifting between the spires of Pinnacles National Park and along the ridges of Big Sur.
But it is far from certain that the reintroduction program will succeed in creating self-sustaining populations of wild condors. The problem that brought the condors to the door of extinction in the first place – lead poisoning – remains a major, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle to the success of condors in the wild. The source of the lead is primarily lead ammunition ingested by the birds when they eat dead animals or gut piles left behind by hunters.
To deal with this problem, clean carcasses are provided for the condors to feed on. Inevitably, though, they scavenge their own food as well and, in spite of a ban on hunting with lead ammunition within the condor range, the poisoning continues. This month, in fact, a record 21 condors had to be treated for lead poisoning. The trouble is that condors eat a lot of dead animals and it only takes one contaminated carcass to deliver a potentially lethal dose.
For this reason, as well as to reduce eagle deaths and other damage caused by lead in the environment, Governor Brown recently signed into law a bill that will eventually (in 2019) ban the use of lead ammunition for hunting statewide. That’s a long time to wait for a bird that continues to teeter on the brink of extinction, but even if the ban took effect today it probably wouldn’t completely solve the problem. Landowners, even within the condor range, still use lead ammunition to shoot “varmints,” pigs, etc., and the ban won’t stop that. The hope is that it will reduce the frequency of condor poisonings by helping to catalyze a broader shift toward lead alternatives.
Which brings us back to the Condor Conspiracy …
That lead poisoning is the primary obstacle to condor recovery, and that the source of the lead is primarily lead ammunition, is not seriously in doubt. The scientific evidence (based on blood tests, recovery of bullet fragments from the guts of poisoned birds, and even matching of lead isotopes in condor blood with the isotope profiles of ammunition) is simply overwhelming. Yet, every time we read an online article about lead poisoning in condors or the lead ammunition ban, we see comments denying that condors are suffering from lead poisoning, denying that condors can even get lead poisoning from eating lead bullets, suggesting that car batteries and wheel weights are a more likely source of lead poisoning than lead ammunition, contending that the extinction of the condor was a natural process that should not have been interfered with, contending that the real motivation of people supporting the ban is not to protect condors, but to ban hunting altogether, or even to “disarm U.S. citizens,” rants about the imposition of Agenda 21, and so on.
Where do people get these ideas? Well, the science-denial at the core of it all originates mainly on an NRA website called huntfortruth.org.
Clearly impressed by the fossil fuel industry’s success in convincing the scientifically illiterate that global warming is nothing more than a conspiracy between radical environmentalists and mad scientists out to destroy our way of life, the NRA launched the website earlier this year to promote the idea that efforts to ban lead ammo are the result of a diabolical conspiracy between crooked scientists and extremists out to ban hunting and take away guns. The site is jam-packed with meritless and misleading attacks on condor science that mirror industry attacks on the science of global warming so perfectly that it’s actually kind of spooky (which is why we’re posting this on Halloween).
There is palpable disbelief among the huntfortruth-schooled comment-writers that anyone could possibly care about the survival of a few buzzards (“Is saving a variety of big, ugly vulture really THAT important?”), and this disbelief makes it easy for them to accept the idea that everyone from Ventana Wildlife Society interns to University of California toxicologists are motivated only by a deep-seated hatred of the American way of life. “This is,” as one commenter put it, “a war on people who have different values than the enlightened city dwellers, plain and simple.”
We’re not sure what the NRA hopes to accomplish by encouraging this kind of thinking. Perhaps new threats to gun ownership have to be regularly found or created in order to keep the donations flowing? It’s a little unfair to the condors, though, who have enough problems without becoming pawns in an extremely cynical disinformation campaign.
In any event, the huntfortruth website promises to continue to fight for the right of hunters to pump lead into the environment and to continue to expose the wrongdoers using condor conservation as a cover for their nefarious plans. It would be funny, if only it wasn’t so incredibly sad.
A sky full of condors is a sight we never thought we’d see, but not everyone is as delighted as we are. According to some innovative theories of natural selection, human beings wiping out other species is just part of nature’s plan. “We’re dragging something into the future that isn’t really supposed to be there,” as one disgruntled commenter puts it.
Check out the Condor Cam!