July 25, 2012
Exposing the Big Game
Contrary to the preposterous--yet
increasingly popular--belief that gas-guzzling, beer-can-tossing hunters are
concerned environmentalists, hunting has been and continues to be the
primary cause of extinctions world-wide. Even the plight of non-"game"
animals, like the California condor, the country's largest and perhaps most
critically endangered bird species, stems from the same root cause that has
led to the decimation of so many other species: hunting.
By the end
of the nineteenth century, that darkest of times for wildlife in North
America, rampant hunting had led to the extinction of the great auk, the
passenger pigeon, two subspecies of elk and the near-total extinction of
bison, pronghorn, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep and a myriad of other
coveted species. Meanwhile, scavengers like condors were collateral damage
in the frenzied campaign to rid the continent of its native carnivores.
Together with ravens and vultures, condors were senselessly shot on
sight by trigger-happy ranchers mistaking the huge birds for predators--an
ignorance that continues to this day. Moreover, those scavengers, along with
eagles, hawks and other raptors, perished from eating poisoned meat intended
for wolves, coyotes, bears and cougars.
Incidental poisoning is an
ongoing threat plaguing condors right up to this day. Like so many other
egg-laying species, their population suffered another major setback from the
widespread use of DDT during the mid-20th Century. That toxic chemical was
finally banned, but the great birds continued to perish. By the time it was
determined they were also dying from lead-poisoning as the result of
scavenging the carcasses of animals killed with lead-based bullets and
buckshot, the condor population was down to an all-time low of only 22
individuals. Thanks to concerted efforts, their numbers have increased
nowadays and lead-based ammunition has been banned from the condor's most
critical habitat. But the 400 surviving birds are still threatened by the
illegal use of lead shot and bullets, in addition to other anthropogenic
pressures, like power lines and wind turbans.
California condors have
a life span of up to 60 years (longer than most human carnivores, prior to
the discovery of statin drugs). And though they may appear ungainly on land,
once a condor has worked his or her way up to a proper elevation, they can
glide for miles without ever flapping a wing and sometimes attain speeds of
55 miles per hour, at elevations of 15,000 feet.
More proof that
hunters aren't really environmentalists: condors are still shot as pests or
for target practice, and many "sportsmen" continue to oppose a
nationwide-ban on lead-based ammo.