Used to be, California condors sailed the western skies from Baja to Canada. Now just 148 hunker down in captivity and another 136 exist tenuously in the wild -- 63 of them in California, mostly in Southern California although some live up around Hollister at Pinnacles National Monument.
But someday we may see the return to our own skies of the gigantic, sluggish, bald-headed, scavenging Gymnogyps californianus: The Yurok Tribe has just been awarded a $200,000 Tribal Wildlife grant from the federal government to study the feasibility of reintroducing condors to the tribe's ancestral territory.
Alex Pitts, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Journal on Tuesday that the grant will fund habitat assessments in Redwood National and State Parks and in the Six Rivers National Forest. The assessments will be checking out the land's suitability, including availability of appropriate condor chow. And, the grant will allow the tribe to map air currents to determine how well the birds will be able to get around.
We couldn't reach anyone from the tribe today to talk about the condor research; maybe later. But Pitts said there are reports of condors in this region in explorer Jedediah Smith's journals, as well as accounts and stories of condors from tribal elders in T.T. Waterman's book Yurok Geography.
"There are lots of stories and rituals that have been passed down that indicate condors are part of their cultural heritage," said Pitts.
You can hear the pronunciation of the Yurok word for condor, pregonish, at the U.C. Berkeley's Yurok Lamnguage Project site (scroll to No. 85).
And, some folks in Oregon recently groused about the lack of condor reintroduction efforts in their state.