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BIOLOGISTS PLAN CONDOR RELEASE IN GRAND CANYON.

Byline: Catherine Dold The New York Times

California condors, the largest land birds in North America, may soon be soaring over the Grand Canyon. As the second major step in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recovery plan for the endangered condor, biologists proposed last week to release nine captive-bred birds in the Vermilion Cliffs area just north of the canyon in April.

Since 1992, 27 captive-bred birds have been released in California, and 13 are still living in the wild.

"It's extremely exciting," Robert Mesta, the recovery plan coordinator, said of the proposed release. "The key to recovery is to get a lot of birds out in a lot of different areas. This is the next chapter."

California condors, which dwell on cliffs, have been on the endangered list since 1967. Biologists discovered in the early 1980s that the wild population had fallen perilously close to extinction and decided to capture all the birds and start a captive breeding program. The last wild-born condor was captured in 1987.

Although some feared that taking all birds out of the wild could mean the end of the species if the captive breeding plans failed, the birds adapted well. By 1991, they had produced enough chicks that "surplus" birds - those not needed to maintain the gene pool - were available for release.

The first releases were not without problems, Mesta said. One bird died after drinking antifreeze, and others died in collisions with power lines.

Others had to be recaptured after they became fond of human handouts. Those early experiences convinced the biologists that the birds needed more help in the wild, so they began teaching them survival skills.

Biologists taught the birds to steer clear of the poles by delivering a mild electric shock to birds who landed on fake power poles in their flight pens.

To teach the birds to stay away from people, the biologists taught them to associate humans with chaos.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 14, 1996
Words:323
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