We investigated threats to the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), a flagship endangered species, using individual data on survival during a 20year period of intensive recovery efforts. Over the two decades of reintroductions, condors in California had an estimated median survival time of 7.8years suggesting that 50% of condors are expected to survive in the wild long enough to contribute to recruitment. In general, annual mortality rates exceeded levels necessary for a stable population; however, mortality declined, reaching levels needed for population stability, during the second decade of re-establishment. Intensive management practices, including utility pole aversion training and clinical interventions to prevent lead-related deaths likely contributed to the decrease in mortality rates. Utility line collision and/or electrocution was an important factor causing mortality over the two decades; though, this threat has largely been mitigated through management and targeted efforts in high-risk areas. In the past, wildfires were not considered a major threat to survival of free-flying condors. However, our analyses suggest that forest fires are significantly linked to the hazard of death, and increased wildfire activity in California highlights this population's vulnerability to catastrophic losses from forest fire. Lead poisoning, which was a major driver in the population's decline, was a leading cause of death accounting for the greatest adult mortality, and lead exposure remains the most significant threat. Recent lead ammunition reduction efforts in the condor range in California hold promise for improving the recovery potential for this population.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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