In 1987, the United States implemented the largest, costliest and most intensive conservation plan for any animal ever.
Then, 22 California condors, the only in existence, were captured and bred at zoos in California, in hopes of raising population numbers and In 1991, they were again reintroduced into the wild. The amazing bird is the largest species in North America and lives only in specific locales like Zion and the Grand Canyon.
With global populations of the condor estimated at around 322 (172 of those in the wild), you can imagine the furor that arose when two of the majestic birds were found shot through the wings and body last week in Big Sur, California.
Amazingly, both birds (one male, one female) were discovered alive by the Ventana Wildlife Society in Monterey. The male, who took 15 pellets in his wings and torso from the shotgun blast, is in critical condition, the LA Times reports.
Environmental group Defenders of Wildlife initially offered up a $1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction, but with help from other groups and advocates, including the Center for Biological Diversity, that reward grew to $40,500—a hefty chunk of change.
That reward remains one of the highest ever for a case involving an injured endangered species.
Apart from federal wildlife investigations currently underway, the Center for Biological Diversity, located in Arizona, has gone all Pinkerton on the case and hired a private investigator, Bruce Robertson, a member of the center, to investigate.
Although focused on the same goal, Robertson seems pretty focused on his sleuthing duties, and wants nothing to do with the feds. The LA Times quoted Robertson telling a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent to "stay out of my way" while working on the case.
Robertson hopes the money will prove to be a powerful attractant for those struggling with tough economic times. (It seems almost impossible to but any price on such a rare and amazing species of bird, but if it brings the avian assailants to justice, we're all for it.)
"The goal is to solve the crime," Robertson told the Times. "These shootings need to stop now. We can't wait for weeks or months."
Robertson seems to have a pretty thorough plan to capture whoever is behind the shootings, including a "team of investigators on the streets leverage[ing] their connections to cast a wide net."
Although some might say that this is a bit Hollywood-movie overkill for just two birds, protecting California condors is in fact very serious business. Since 1967 the California condor has been listed as a federally-endangered species.
Whoever is behind the shootings could face both federal and state penalties for Endangered Species Act violation, if found and convicted.
Unfortunately for the condors, there's more ways to fill them with lead than shooting them. Since condors often depend on carrion killed by hunters, they are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from remaining bullets. In 2007, California passed a law that prohibits using any lead ammunition within the bird's 2,000-square-mile-plus territory.
If you have information about the shootings, you can contact the California Department of Fish and Game TIP line at (888) 334-2258.
Photo credit to norjam8 on Flickr.