Going back at least a century to the decline of the American bison, zoos and aquariums have played a critical role in the fight to bring animal species back from the brink of extinction. Because our planet’s fragile ecosystems face new threats each day, this work is more important than ever. Let’s take a look at two of our feathered friends, the California condor and the Waldrapp ibis. Both faced near-extinction in the wild, but are making a comeback thanks to the work of AZA member institutions.
The California Condor
The largest bird in North America, the California condor once dominated the western skies, able to soar to 15,000 feet and travel up to 150 miles a day in pursuit of food. With its keen vision, the condor hunts for carcasses of dead animals, and then swoops in to feast, serving as nature’s clean-up crew. But destruction of habitat and poaching decimated the species, and by 1982, only 22 birds remained in the wild. Eighteen AZA-accredited institutions took the lead at captive breeding, working with a network of government and non-profit partners. Beginning in the early 1990s, zoo-bred condors began being reintroduced into the wild. From a low of 22, there are now more than 435 condors in the world, with almost 250 free-flying in the West.
The Waldrapp Ibis
The Waldrapp ibis is also known as the hermit ibis or the northern bald ibis. Their strong character and uncommon appearance give them unique appeal.Their black feathers take on brilliant sheens of purple, green and orange when viewed in bright sunlight. With only about 420 wild Waldrapp ibis remaining, this is one of the world’s most critically endangered avian species. But thanks to a very successful breeding and release program by AZA accredited institutions, there are over 1,100 Waldrapp ibis in captivity, and offspring from zoos are being released back to the wild.