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 You may be wondering why should we care about a species that no longer the habitat to survive in the wild?  Why are commitment, deep knowledge, and profound experience crucial to save a species?  When conservation becomes a political issue, how to stomach all the arising problems?  These are just a few issues that Juan Vargas and Catalina Porras have had to face while working towards the return of the California condor to the northern Baja California, Mexico, in the mountain range of the San Pedro Martyr Sierra.


Scientist call animals that no longer have a guaranteed future due to the loss of their habitats a “zombie species”. After a heated and polemic discussion among conservationists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to capture the last 22 California condors in the wild in 1985. The argument of those against this initiative was that the species no longer had a place to survive in the wild and should be left alone, to go extinct with dignity. Instead, the decision was to save them. The San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos where commissioned to capture the extant condors and to breed them in captivity. A few years later, the California condor recovery team found Baja California, Mexico to be a better suited habitat for this charismatic species. Some people in Mexico opposed the introduction of the condor to the mountains of northern Baja, claiming that there were no historical records of the bird in Mexico, while others simply identified the California condor as a zombie species that had no future. These discussions remain pressing as we face a delicate moment in Earth’s history. Now, more than ever, we need the example of successful battles against extinction. 


Twenty years have elapsed since three California condors were set free in the northern edge of the San Pedro Martyr Sierra in Baja California in October 2002. Thirty-nine condors now roam the skies of this beautiful national park, and six more are waiting in an aviary facility to be released next year. This is a wonderful and unique success story that could not have been accomplished without the tenacity of Juan Vargas and Catalina Porras. They have called this mountain range their home from the beginning of the program until today. At first, the couple camped in a tent, only upgrading to a small motor home years later, which was almost buried by three feet of snow during the winter. They were there for the condors, day in and day out, in the rain or in the snow and there, too, when the wild fires burned the forest around them. The experience they gained from raising eagles and several other birds at the Fundación Ara in Monterrey, Nuevo León in the 90s helped them care for the condors successfully in ways that have now been acknowledged worldwide.


All this could not have been achieved without the team’s resourcefulness, intelligence and professionalism, as they faced innumerable challenges for over two decades. This is just the beginning of a story that will transcend deserts, forests and mountain ranges; an initiative full of hope and wisdom that could inspire generations to come. Now we must consider the California condor an emblematic species that has made a comeback from the verge of extinction, an example that can give us the strength to fight for every other endangered living species on this planet.

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