Joining forces to preserve condors

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - September 11, 2008

Scientists from Pinnacles National Monument in central California visited Argentina this week to improve tracking and studying techniques of the birds, whose 9-foot (3-meter) wingspan has inspired reverence among indigenous people of the Americas for centuries.

The team is developing a five-year scientist exchange program with Argentina aimed at preserving the threatened scavenger, Pinnacles National Monument director Eric Brunnemann told a news conference Tuesday.

The number of California condors is estimated at around 300 - half of which are in captivity - and they are still in danger of extinction.

The Andean condor, a different species, has fared better: There are between 2,000 and 3,000 of the birds gliding over Argentina's snowy crags.

Argentine and U.S. scientists have been working together since the early 1980s, when the California condor was on the brink of extinction. U.S. scientists applied successful efforts in Argentina to breed condors in captivity and then release them to salvage a waning California population.

"I want to thank Argentina because we were able to save our condors," Brunnemann said.

Pinnacles biologist Denise Louie said condors still are in a precarious position. The two species face encroaching human development that threatens their mountain nests, hunting, and farmers who poison dead animals to prevent disease, which the carrion-eating condors then digest.

"The situation of the condors in both countries is grave," she said.

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