In the long list of things I write about that mankind has done wrong, it’s nice to talk about something we’ve done right.
Enter the California Condor, the largest bird in North America from the vulture family. In 1982 there were only 22 of these birds left in the world and the powers that be decided to make a controversial decision to capture all remaining condors to provide a captive breeding program in order to keep them from going completely extinct. Thirty plus years later the California Condor community has hatched their 1000th chick, born in the wilds of Utah.
Mama is Condor 409; (tag #9) she was hatched in captivity in 2006 at the San Diego Zoo. Papa is Condor 523; (tag # J3) he was hatched in 2009 at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, ID. Both birds were released in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, AZ, Mama in 2008 and Papa in 2016. This is Mama’s second mate, her first died of lead poisoning in 2016. California Condors have one baby every two years. Not exactly a prolific species, but with human intervention they have beaten the odds for now.
There are currently 500 California Condors in existence today. Half of those are happily soaring high in the thermals above Mother Earth, living wilds in Utah, Arizona, California and Northern Mexico.
The skies were almost empty of Condors. It took a gaggle of agencies, biologists, citizens and a roll of the dice to get a program together for a bird that is not known for being pretty, but beautiful enough for some people to care about what happens to them.
No one can predict what future awaits 1000th chick, but he or she will be free to make their bid to either bloom or fade in the wild where they belong thanks to hundreds of dedicated humans. We caused the mass extinction and we also stalled it. We did this right.
Let us say you have found a baby red squirrel in your air conditioning duct. You heard some scratching and, well, there he was alone in the bottom of the duct in your basement and looking oh so bewildered. Never mind how he got there, never mind who else was may have squatting rights amongst your walls and attic. The problem had shown itself and must be dealt with. Now.
You’ll need some basic equipment – such as oven mitts for the anticipated close combat drill – and some sort of head covering. You opt for a hat. Should he make a run at you in blind terror, you must be prepared to defend your hair and face in a moment of panic. A towel could be useful so as to cause no harm during the capture of Baby Red Squirrel. Then, as a last minute decision, because of the darkness in the basement where the duct is located, you grab a flashlight and also a screwdriver for the mechanics. Now you’re ready and descend the stairs.
Mentally, you run through procedure. Capture without injury, that’s what you are trying to achieve. No squishing or squeezing in an adrenaline-filled rush of success. Just pick him out of the furnace/air conditioner duct unit with gentle hands, speak softly so not to spook him and put him in a box, unharmed, then call Wildlife Rehab and voilà! You’re confident in your little plan. After all, you are an intelligent, well-groomed adult woman and he is just a terrified baby squirrel wanting his mom. It should be easy you say to yourself.
After removing the first cover of the furnace unit, then the mechanical cover, you shine the flashlight into the corner and there he was. Time to put the plan in motion.
It goes just as slick as it did in your pre-game self-talk. Baby is in the kitty carrier box and will soon be on his way to –
Wait a minute. Was that more scratching? You once again look into the breach of the duct…
Eight little eyes stare back at you. All in a tiny ball.
You’re surprised but unworried. It’s going to be easy. Just pick up the ball of babies and drop them into the designated box. Your plan moves forward.
But you side off the rails in the execution of said plan.
Babies #2, 3, 4 and 5 do not stay in the ball as prescribed. Three and Four dart out of the duct to places unknown. Undaunted, you manage to capture #5 with an oven mitt but when you open the rescue box Baby#1 flies out of there in a blind panic and decides your exposed cleavage looks like a good place to hide. As you scream in terror the flashlight falls out of your mouth, and you instantly drop Baby #5 while simultaneously trying in desperation to get Baby # 1 out of your shirt.
Three of the babies are making laps along the basement wall as you hop about trying to release the cleavage baby, who decides it was not as nice a hidey-hole as he had hoped and scrambles for your head. Good thing you have that hat on- too bad he is a crafty baby and slipped underneath and is now nestling in your perm. His siblings are running the Dayton 500 around the circumference of the basement while you do the jig, fling the hat and try to wrestle loose Baby #1, whose tiny little feet have a death grip in your hair. When he finally swings free of one of your long locks all you can see is babies running. Everywhere. Nobody’s in the box and babies are apparently capable of attack.
With steely-eyed determination you go to plan B, which consists of running behind the babies with a towel to drop on them or hopefully corner them for the oven mitt catch. You trap Baby #3 behind the old screen door lying against the east wall. One down, four to go.
While chasing Baby #2 and #4 you have unfortunately forgotten about that low-hanging pipe.
When you come to your senses, a mittened hand instinctively goes to your forehead as you try to focus on the scurrying shapes making laps and discover a lump akin to a rhino horn growing where your Third Eye should be. You would be angry now – except you’re still disorientated. Yet in your dream-state, you have successfully captured Baby #1 and #4, though you don’t remember how. Nor do you know how you got them into the box without Baby #3 escaping, but you’ll take a win when you can get one. Baby #2 is still at large with her sister, Baby #5.
Baby #5 darts under a shelving unit. You need the flashlight and something to coax her out with. Something like a stick but kinder. You opt for a dust wand. You don’t have a headlamp so you hold the flashlight in your mouth again and see Baby sidestep over the wand. She’s very clever – just your luck. Her capture is abandon for the time being while you go after the sister who you hope is less intelligent.
What she lacks in grey matter she makes up for in speed and for a baby she sure can climb as she scales an old television cabinet. At least there will be no running which should alleviate some of the pounding in your head. You throw a towel at her and quickly scoop up Baby #2 who is scolding in high-pitched squeaks as you wiggle her into a very small opening in the box all the while praying Baby #1,3 and 4 do not notice her dropping in through a crack in the box lid.
Almost there! Only clever #5, who you suspect is barricaded herself behind the washer, needs rescuing. Armed with the knowledge that you soon will be done you feel a surge. You also feel a surge in your head when you heave the washer from the wall. Another in your back as you move the dryer, where #5 scooted to when you chased her from the washer. A few slow, stiff laps around the basement later, with both contestants tiring, Baby #5 reverses course into a wooden box. Not THE box but a box nonetheless. You can almost taste the victory as you ‘stir’ the box with your oven mitt hand and finally- you have her. Apparently the babies are as tired as you because they just watch as Baby #5 joins them.
Basking in the glow of victory, you surveille the remnants of a once organized basement now littered with pieces of old lumber, oven mitts, overturned furniture, misplaced appliances in need of a service repairman (Who knew washer hoses could rip like that?). You smooth a hand with chipped polish over a once upon a time stunning perm, unbedazzled by the new lump in the middle of your forehead (which is going to look swell at work tomorrow) and wonder if that was a disc herniating in your back.
But the Babies are on their way to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota.