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Few scientists know about condors, but many are aware that these giant birds of incomparable majesty have dwindled to less than 35 in the 1970s. In an effort to solve the mystery and save this species, scientists gathered for a brainstorming session. Abe and a few others proposed fitting some condors with radio transmitters to tack them and learn about their nesting and feeding habits. With radio telemetry, they could also locate dead birds and discover the cause of their death. Other condors would be trapped for breeding in captivity. To produce a captive stock rapidly, Abe suggested taking eggs from nests to hatch in incubators. he knows that most bird species will 'double-clutch' and lay a second egg in the same breeding season if the first is lost. He thinks that condors are no exception.

As expected, Abe's proposals sparked off a howl of protest from a group of equally concerned conservation groups. They claimed that a bird raised in captivity would never adjust in the wild. One even proclaimed that the condor 'is not an electric toy to play with, blindfold, manhandle, peer into, wire for sound, or put behind bars'. After months of bureaucratic infighting, Abe was finally granted a permit to carry out his program. With a few members of the rescue condor team, Abe set out the task of tracking the bird. Before long, they spotted two condors at a nesting cave. Watching through a telescope, they were enthralled to see one of the birds lay a pale blue egg. 54 days later, a member saw a beak cutting through the shell. On the morning of the 56th day, there was a newborn chick. With the parents away foraging, Abe decided to weigh and measure the nestling.

The scientists continued to observe the bids from afar. By photographing each bird in flight, they developed  method of individual identification that led to an accurate census. They managed to have two condors flying with a radio transmitter and a numbered tag on each wing. The captive-breeding program was also fully launched in the early 1980s as the scientists began pulling eggs from nests. All were successfully hatched at the San Diego Zoo. The breeding pairs in the wild promptly laid second, even third, eggs proving Abe right about double-clutching. One day, a transmitter signal alerted scientists that a condor in the High Sierra was not moving. The bird's frost-covered body was found. A post-mortem revealed a silver of a lead bullet in the bird's gut plus toxic levels of the metal in its blood. The condor had probably ingested the bullet fragment while feeding on a hunter-killed deer.

In captivity, the wild birds bred easily. Their keepers worked behind one-way mirrors and used hand puppets, shaped and textured like an adult condor's head and neck, for feeding and preening. This was done so that the chicks would not catch a glimpse of people and could not imprint to them. When a total of 13 chicks hatched in 1990, the scientists were convinced that the captive condor flock would continue to increase rapidly. They were also encouraged by the arrival on the market of all-copper bullets that had superior ballastics to lead bullets. If hunters chose them and if copper proved less toxic to condors, the bullets might be a major step in saving the majestic birds.

In late 1991, four young condors were flown by helicopter to a high ridge in a sanctuary. They were freed into a spacious roost box, stuccoed to simulate a cave. Outside the door was a nylon-netted feeding ledge from which the four could gaze out over the mountains and fell the wind in their feathers. They remained in the pen for two months to become acclimatised. On the day the scientists were waiting for, a cloudless morning, the door from the roost to the ledge was opened. During the night, the nylon mesh had been taken away, and now nothing stood between the birds and freedom. One after the other, heads bobbing in curiosity, the birds spread their glossy wings and hopped into the air. Clumsily plopping back to the ledge, they flapped and hopped until, one by one, they managed a brief wobbly flight.

A month later, the four condors were spotted near the cliffs, soaring and gliding in the thermals. By December 1992, eight condors had been freed. More birds would be freed in the coming years. The scientists knew that they were right on schedule and that the California condor would be back.

From paragraph 1 :
  1.

(a) Why do scientists worry about the condors ?

(b) How would scientists learn about the nesting and feeding habits of condors ?

   

From paragraph 2 :

  2.

(a) Who did not accept Abe's 'double-clutch' proposal ?

(b) Why ?

    From paragraph 3 :
  3.

(a) How did Abe and his team manage to get an accurate census of the condors ?

(b) How successful was the captive-breeding program ?

    From paragraph 4 :
  4.

Explain why the keepers had to use hand puppets shaped like an adult condor's head and neck.

    From paragraph 5 :
  5.

(a) How did the condors react when the nylon mesh was removed ?

(b) How successful were the condors in learning to fly initially ?

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Answers
 

1.

(a) The number of condors has declined drastically.

(b) They fitted radio transmitters on some condors.

 

2.

(a) Another concerned condor conservation group objected to Abe's proposal.

(b) They claimed that a bird raised in captivity will not be able to adapt itself in the wild.

 

3.

(a) They photographed and identified the bird in flight.

(b) All the eggs taken from the wild were successfully hatched in the zoo.

 

4.

It is because the keepers wanted to feed the condors in as real a natural situation as possible so that they would adjust better when released in the wild.

 

5.

(a) They were curious but carefully spread their wings and hopped into the air.

(b) They managed a brief wobbly flight.

 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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