Sunday, May 24, 2009

Condor Investigation Going Public

California Condor / Photo by Scott Frier (USFWS)

Shortly after two condors were found shot in California, the Center for Biological Diversity put together a $40,500 reward for evidence and hired a private investigator (Bruce Robertson) to find who did it. Since that time, one condor has been released, and the other has died from lead poisoning. To this point, the Center for Biological Diversity's investigator has worked undercover, but he is now making his investigation more public.
This weekend Mr. Robertson plans to shed his undercover guise and begin distributing wanted posters on doorsteps, telephone poles and in mailboxes and gun shops across the Central Coast. The posters highlight the cash reward and ask anyone with information to call an 800 number or send an e-mail message.

“People will start talking when they find out about the money,” he said.

The posters rankle federal Fish and Wildlife Service officials. “It would be much better if people with information contacted law enforcement officials trained to handle such information in the proper way,” said Alex Pitts, an agency spokeswoman.

Law enforcement officials from the agency and from the California Department of Fish and Game and local sheriff’s offices are conducting their own investigation into the condor shootings. “I hope if he finds information he gives it to our investigators,” Ms. Pitts said of Mr. Robertson.
I hope that whatever Robertson is doing does not interfere with the investigations being conducted by the wildlife agencies. At the same time, these agencies, including their enforcement divisions, tend to be underfunded so having extra help is probably a benefit. Hopefully publicizing the reward will lead to better information.

This entire episode is very sobering, as it emphasizes how vulnerable many species are to our thoughtless (or malicious) actions. Despite many years of captive breeding and reintroduction, California Condors remain very much on the brink of extinction. In large part this is thanks to the lead that humans have left scattered throughout the western landscape; released condors regularly need to be recaptured for lead testing. Habituation to people and loss of wild upbringing have left the released birds with bad habits. Without substantial ongoing intervention and precautions such as California's lead bullet ban, condors could well disappear. The same is true for Whooping Cranes, which have struggled mightily when released into the wild. Red Knots and other birds could be in that position in the near future. It is distressing to see wildlife in such precarious condition.