A Scavenger’s Hunt

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience onlne. Follow their adventures here!

This week we had the privilege to meet Mrs. Maggie Reinbold, a Conservation Program Manager at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. While visiting with her, we participated in one of the many programs that she organizes to help teach the public about conservation and what we can do to help.

Mrs. Reinbold gave us a presentation on California condors. She talked about how in 1987 there were less than two dozen California condors left on Earth. The San Diego Zoo rounded all the condors up and started a massive captive breeding program as well as a huge genetic study on the birds. We reviewed the issues that led these giant birds to extinction in the first place, including hunters using lead bullets, condors flying into power lines, genetic abnormalities, and “microtrash.”

The Zoo is working to fix some of the issues that the condors face. One of their solutions is aversion therapy, which is used to help train condors that are to be released into the wild. Aversion therapy, for condors,  is when the keepers place a smaller version of a power pole inside the enclosure. The power pole is hooked up to electricity so that if the birds land on it, then they receive a slight shock; this teaches the condors that they need to avoid the power poles in the wild. “Mircotrash,” small peices of garbage that are left behind by people, is another challenge condors face. Condors mistake small pieces of trash as bone chips that they then try to feed to their offspring to boost calcium levels. The Zoo has tried to fix this issue by introducing bone chips to the birds so that they will be able to distinguish the difference between the actual bone chips themselves and “mircortrash” when released back into the wild. Everyone can help prevent the “microtrash” issue by simply not littering. It’s simple, pick up your trash.

Genetics are a very important part in breeding California condors. We found out that male and female condors look exactly the same so researchers need to look at the condor’s genes to determine gender. They also look to see if they have any lethal recessive alleles, such as the one for chondrodystrophy (a lethal form of dwarfism), that should be prevented from being passed on. We were lucky enough to be able to use real condor DNA and perform the process that the researchers use to determine the gender of condors. The Zoo has been very successful at breeding condors. They have also been fortunate enough to release many of the condors back into the wild in California and Arizona as well as in Baja California in Mexico. Many of the condors that are released are monitored so researchers can be sure that they are adapting and surviving in the wild.

Through Mrs. Reinbold’s presentation we learned about California condors and the efforts that the Zoo has made to protect these animals, as well as what everyone can do to help these creatures. The Zoo uses genetics to help them breed the animals, as well as training them to survive in the wild. Everyone can help by picking up their trash and participating in trash clean-ups. It is Mrs. Reinbold’s job to organize programs like this, and many others that help teach the public about conservation as well as teaching them that the San Diego Zoo is more than just a zoo.

Morgan, Conservation Team
Fall 2012, week two