Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique 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 online. Follow their adventures here!
Maggie Reinbold, the conservation program director at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research started off by teaching us about the variety of current issues facing the California condor in the wild. It was interesting to be informed about the human and behavioral issues that led to the species’ listing back in 1967. We also learned about the different programs that are set up for preparing captive condors for the real world and the challenges they will have to overcome out there. We then ended our visit with a fun activity, which included trying to find the gender of a condor through the use of DNA analysis.
Mrs. Reinbold talked about some of the major problems that were and still are affecting the condors’ population, some even being caused by us. Since the condors are scavengers, meaning they eat the remains of dead animals, condors are known to get lead poisoning from eating bullets from the bodies of dead animals left behind by hunters. A simple way to help prevent this is to not hunt use lead bullets and to track down the animal that was shot. A law was also passed back in 2007 preventing the use of lead bullets in the condor’s range, to help protect the species. Another human-caused problem that this species is facing also has to do with the condor’s behavior. “Micotrash” refers to small bits of trash including coins, small bits of plastic, and other small items that people would consider trash. This becomes a behavioral problem that only effects released condors because the condors then feed this trash to their offspring. They perform this action because naturally the condors give their babies small bits of bone in order to build up calcium levels, but being raised in captivity, the condors had no idea what a bone was or looked like so when released into the wild, some natural instinct told them to give some small, hard objects to their offspring. There is a very simple way for the average person to help out with this problem and that is simply throwing away your trash in a garbage can. Also pre-release programs are now giving their release candidates access to bone chips so they know what they look and feel like so they don’t get bones confused with microtrash out in the wild.
At the end of our exciting learning adventure, Mrs. Reinbold had us determine the gender of a condor using the DNA from an actual condor! The process we used was called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) where the DNA is split in half, then primers are used to find the chosen section of the DNA. Afterwards the DNA copies would be made and the process would be repeated multiple times until there are billions of copies. We used this process in order to determine if our condor was either a male or a female. Since both males and females look identical, PCR makes it easier to determine their gender.
Thanks to Mrs. Reinbold we were informed about the dangerous issues causing the endangerment of the famous California condor and how we can help. Also about the programs and jobs that are already in place helping this magnificent animal. It was fun to take part in what actual geneticists do in order to find out the specific details about condors.
Hayden, Real World Team
Fall 2012, week two