A healthy, four-year-old California condor known as #358 was found dead on Monday in the Los Padres National Forest. Its neck had become tangled in a rope apparently used by hikers to scale a waterfall along Tar Creek, just north of Fillmore in Ventura County.
“It’s a popular recreational area, and it also happens to be a year-round source of water for condors,” explained U.S. Fish & Wildlife spokesperson Michael Woodbridge on Tuesday. He said it appeared as if the bird had been checking out the rope, and then somehow got caught. “They’re naturally curious birds,” said Woodbridge. “When people leave stuff out, they’re going to explore that.”
The bird was found by a hiker who called authorities on Monday at about 10 a.m., and the USFWS sent out a team to retrieve the bird. They found the condor near the top of a 200-foot waterfall, with its neck caught in an eight-millimeter rope that was tied to a small tree in the chaparral scrub and frayed with repeated use over the years.
Though Woodbridge couldn’t say definitively that this was the only condor ever killed by recreational equipment since the recovery program began in the 1980s, he said, “I don’t know of any cases offhand that are similar.” He did, however, say it reminded him of recent cases in Bakersfield where endangered kit foxes are getting themselves caught and injured in volleyball and soccer nets. Typically, wild condors - whose population dwindled to less than 30 birds in the 1980s - die from lead poisoning after eating on the remains of animals hunted with lead bullets. Less commonly, the birds may die by being shot, flying into power lines, or contracting West Nile virus.
The death leaves 361 condors in existence, including 188 wild condors, 94 of which are in California. The good news, said Woodbridge, is that it wasn’t a breeding condor. “It would have been a greater loss if this was a breeding adult bird, but it wasn’t at a breeding age yet,” said Woodbridge. However, the bird had no problems, wasn’t sickly, and had no problems with humans. On top of that, Woodbridge explained, “He was actually one of the more dominant birds in his age class.” Dominance often predicts how successful an individual bird will be in future mating, said Woodbridge, who explained, “We had pretty high hopes of him having a long productive life in the wild.” Unfortunately, condor #358 has now been sent off to the San Diego Zoo for a necropsy.
“Anything left there can have an effect on condors. People need to make sure to take that out of the backcountry,” warned Woodbridge. “The bottom line is pack out your stuff.”