It may seem as though captivity and wild living are dual entrenchments, each completely exclusive to one another. That may have been the case for much of our history, but as human civilization expanded its reach into the native habitats of many species that critically depend on an unchanging environment, this changed. Though wild birds should normally remain in the wild, the California Condor is a notable reminder that, during times when the only other option is imminent extinction, selective captivity can benefit a species.

By the mid-to-late 1900s, the California Condor was on the verge of extinction, and the numbers stood nearly no chance of turning around on their own. Though human intervention caused the species’ numbers to plummet as dramatically as they did in the first place, and remains the sole cause for the horrible decline in their natural population, it was only through human intervention again that these birds stood a chance of making it into the next millennium. When their numbers dwindled below the 2-dozen mark in 1987, all of the remaining living condors from the wild were captured, and brought to live on conservation grounds.

Thanks to innovative breeding techniques used in captivity, along with rigorous new protections for the species in the wild, nearly 8x as many wild California Condors now roam through their natural habitats. They may not be quite thriving in number, but they are surviving, and fending for themselves. These birds can live up to sixty years old, and their ancient heritage and symbolic importance to many Native American peoples place profound emphasis on maintaining, and eventually, growing these numbers. Forced captivity in an ideal world would never happen, as birds would remain free to live in their natural habitats the way they were meant to. But when human intervention creates conditions by which a species can no longer sustain itself through its natural abilities in its natural environment, the same thing that was partially a cause for the harm done to the species can also be its saving grace.

It is critical to note that this captive breeding maneuver worked because it was well-planned and run by many leading conservationists. Individuals and even groups without any authority to handle or knowledge of these birds should handle them in any way, as their delicate number still suggest that even a small lapse in human judgment can bring these birds to the brink of extinction again.


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