Being a conservationist who works with the endangered California condor is not for the faint of heart. Find out why in the new mobile game Condor Country, the first mobile game to simulate what it takes to recover an endangered species based on real-life conservation practices used by the California Condor Recovery Program.
With the game, which launches October 25 for your iOS or Android device, “We are revolutionizing the way that people can connect to endangered species and to the people working to save them,” says Paul Souza, Regional Director of the Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “Through this interactive technology, people across the globe can become immersed in day-to-day conservation work in remote locations. We hope to spark curiosity about condors, and inspire players to try to see them in the wild.”
California condors, North America’s largest land birds, once flew the skies from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic seaboard. But the population fell dramatically due to habitat loss and impacts of lead poisoning.
By 1987, the Service-led California Condor Recovery Program had captured the last 22 California condors left in the wild in hopes of saving the population from extinction. A captive breeding program was established, and so began the fight to save the species from extinction. Today, due to the success of the Recovery Program, the population has grown to more than 450 birds in 2016 – about 250 in the wild in Central and Southern California, Arizona and Utah, and Baja, Mexico.
Dr. Estelle Sanhaus is Director of Conservation and Research for the Santa Barbara Zoo, which plays a pivotal role in condor recovery. Sandhaus explains, “There is no win or lose in the game; it is about establishing a wild condor flock capable of raising chicks and producing more condors.”
That’s also the goal of the official California Condor Recovery Plan. Success will mean establishing two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity.
“But just like in real life, there are losses,” Sanhaus continues. “Condors die from lead poisoning” – a major real-life threat. Another threat is microtrash, small bits of trash such as broken glass that can be ingested by condors. Trash cannot be digested, and it can get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract of young condors and result in death.
Condor Country, a collaboration among the Service, Santa Barbara Zoo and Cerberus Interactive, allows players to try to find solutions in the game to these kind of real-world challenges our field teams face in the wild. One character in the game is a field veterinarian who helps players treat birds that are sick with lead poisoning or from ingesting microtrash.
With the game we are welcoming everyone into the exciting world of California condors. Just imagine seeing the majestic bird with its 9.5 foot wingspan.
“Condor Country allows you to be part of the dedicated, passionate and determined California condor conservation community and see the fruits of your labor as your very own condor flock grows, matures and begins to nest in the wild,” says Michael Brady, project leader for Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in southern California, which provides roosting, breeding and foraging habitat for the federally endangered California condor in the wild.
The purpose behind the game, says Sanhaus, is to show everyone that “the California condor can be saved, in spite of setbacks.”
Download your copy Tuesday, October 25, at the App Store (IOS) and Google Play (Android).