Synopsis: Shadow of the Condor
A documentary film on the recovery of the California Condor.
90 min. HD
Shadow of the Condor is the story of the very first endangered species recovery program and the challenges faced in returning the prehistoric species Gymnogyps californianus to an environment that threatens its independent survival. After a federal investment of over 40 million dollars and nearly four decades of committed effort by a range of public and private organizations, a broad shadow hangs over this iconic avian species. Lead poisoning from spent ammunition, micro-trash that birds inexplicably feed their young and the threat of urban development within their foraging range fuel an ongoing necessity for human intervention. From a dwindling population of just 22 in 1982 to a brighter outlook today with over 350, the film explores the condor’s story as an example of the complexities of endangered species recovery.
With visits to hatchlings in the nest, introduction of fledged captive-bred juveniles to adult condor “mentors” and soaring birds over California and the Grand Canyon we get a sense of what success looks like. On the flip side of the equation we witness the chore of re-capturing condors for semi-annual blood testing and the tedious process of chelating lead from birds poisoned by fragments of spent ammunition in the carrion they feed upon. We follow the volunteers that spend countless hours collecting the shiny bits of microtrash within the condor’s range. And we explore the policy issues with the legal minds working on behalf of the condor and against the threats to its survival. We meet some of the key contributors to condor recovery and experience the tenacious optimism fueling their efforts. The film provides a concise overview of the decades-long recovery process but focuses upon the ongoing work to contend with lead poisoning, micro-trash and development within the condor’s range. The story sheds light on how an environmental problem that passionate minds set out to confront through scientific methods is by its nature substantially intertwined with political agendas, complex land use issues and even hunter’s rights.
This is the story of the critical last 10% that is being done to ensure success in an endangered species recovery program, the ongoing dilemma of human dependency created in reestablishing the species and the challenges of re-introducing the birds into an environment containing threats that powerful forces resist any efforts to mitigate. Experts express concern that the current level of maintenance required to sustain the recovered species has the potential to leave the condor as a shadow of its former self. But as articulated by the biologists in the field, their ultimate goal is a healthy population of condors flying free and independent of human intervention. That’s the compelling vision for the California Condor and this is a film about the passionate minds working to eliminate the shadows of threat that endanger success with the species.