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13.4: Enrichment

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Enrichment 12-1: Teacher Activity Notes

Endangered Species-Do or Die



Students analyze the case history of an endangered species, the California condor.



describe how a species can become endangered and distinguish between proximate and ultimate causes.

Estimated Time

One 50-minute period

Student Materials

  • Activity Guide
  • Resource

Teacher Materials

  • None

Prerequisites and Background Information

Students should have an understanding of the terms ultimate cause, proximate cause, and endangered species.

Helpful Hints

You may want to locate and bring in some of the following articles about the California condor.

  • Anonymous. “Condor redux.” Discover, v. 11, July 1990 pp.10-11.
  • Anonymous. “California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus).” World Wildlife Federation Guide to Endangered Species. Beacham Publishing, Washington, D.C., 1990, pp. 621-623.
  • Anonymous. “Comeback trail of the California condor.” National Geographic World, v. 171, November 1989, pp.25-29.
  • Cohn, Jeffrey. “The Flight of the California Condor.” Bioscience, v. 43, April 1993, p. 206.
  • Oliwenstein, Lori. “Nine Months of the Condor.” Discover, v. 10, January 1989, p.62.
  • Oliwenstein, Lori. “Free as a Bird.” Discover, v. 14, January 1993, p. 41.


Introduce Enrichment 12-1 by reviewing with students what it means for a species to be considered endangered.

Steps 1-2 You can use the questions for whole class discussion and read aloud the California Condor timeline on the Enrichment 12-1 Resource or show it on an overhead projector. You can also have students read the timeline and answer the questions individually, then discuss the case in small groups.

You may want to assign this activity as homework, having students read the timeline and answer the questions to prepare for a discussion in class the next day. During the class or group discussion, encourage students to reflect upon what role they feel humans should play in preserving endangered species. Ask them to think about what the costs of this role might be.

Extend Enrichment 12-1 by substituting an example of an endangered species more typical of your immediate environment. Use the reference given for the World Wildlife Federation Guide to Endangered Species to find information about a local endangered species.


Use the discussion and written answers from the Activity Pages to assess if students can

define the terms endangered and extinct.

explain how to distinguish between proximate and ultimate causes of species extinction.

Enrichment 12-1 Activity Guide: Endangered Species-Do or Die (Student Reproducible)


What factors cause some species to become endangered or extinct while others continue to survive and reproduce? How are some human activities helpful or harmful to endangered species? In this activity you will analyze the case study of the California condor, which is currently endangered. Join other conservation biologists in trying to figure out why the condor has become endangered.


  • Enrichment 12-1 Resource
  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil


Step 1 Read the timeline outlining the decline of the California condor as well as the conservation efforts to restore a healthy condor population to the wild. Discuss and answer the following questions:

a. What are the habitat requirements of the California condor?

b. What were the ultimate causes of the condor becoming endangered?

c. How were these ultimate causes related to human activities?

d. What were the proximate causes of the condor becoming endangered?

e. What are humans doing now to prevent the extinction of the California condor?

Step 2 Develop your own plan for the preservation of species. What general role do you feel humans should play in the preservation of species? Should we leave things to happen as they will, or should we intervene?

Enrichment 12-1 Resource: Endangered Species-Do or Die (Student Reproducible)

California Condor Timeline (Gymnogyps californianus)

California condors are the largest birds in North America. They may weigh up to 11 kilograms (about 25 pounds) and have wingspans of 2.9 meters (912 feet). Their heads and necks are bare of feathers, and the rest of their body is black. When they fly, they can go as fast as 88 kilometers per hour (55 miles per hour) and reach altitudes of 4,572 meters (15,000 feet). Condors nest in caves or clefts on cliffs that have trees nearby for roosting and a clear area for them to take off and land. They eat carrion, which is dead animals such as deer, cattle, and sheep. If they eat a big meal, they have to stay on the ground for several hours before they can take off again.

Time Status
100,000 years ago The fossil record indicates that condors once ranged along the entire Pacific Coast from British Columbia to l. Northern Baja, California. Fossils have been found as far east as Texas, Florida, and New York.
1 Bc Condors range to West Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
1800s Condors are last seen in the Pacific Northwest.
1800s The condor is last seen in Northern Baja, California. Scientists say many were poisoned by ranchers who put out poison for livestock predators. People also collect condors and their eggs as a novelty.
1947 The number of condors dwindles to 100. The Los Padres Forest Sanctuary is established. Condor numbers continue to drop due to the construction of roads, cities, housing tracts, and weekend mountain retreats in the open country needed by condors to find food.
1951 The San Diego Zoo proposes breeding condors in captivity as a last resort, due to the dangerously low numbers of condors left in the wild.
1960 Only 50-60 condors are estimated to be left in California. Part of the decrease in numbers is due to accidents such as collisions with power lines and other structures.
1967 The California condor is listed as an endangered species under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
1979 The estimated population of California condors has dropped to 25-30 birds. The American Ornithologists Society and the National Audubon Society develop a study and preservation program for the condors. They find that condors will lay another egg or even two if one egg is lost or removed.
1980 All the remaining condors in the wild belong to only one breeding population.
1983 The Captive Breeding Program is developed at the San Diego Zoo. Biologists begin removing condor eggs laid in the wild because d1ey know the birds will lay another egg. The first California condor to hatch in captivity is named Sisquoc. He and other captive-born condors are raised in boxes that simulate caves and fed by puppets that look like adult condors.
1984 Researchers begin capturing young condors and start breeding them as quickly as possible before the wild population dwindles further. Their plan is to leave some condors in the wild to serve as role models to the captive condors when they are released into the wild.
1985 The capturing of four of the five remaining breeding pairs of condors over the winter reduces the wild population from 15 birds to 9 birds.
1987 Biologists decide to capture all the remaining condors and put them in the captive breeding program.
1988 Two of these captured birds mate and produce the first captive-bred condor chick at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
1989 Scientists release female Andean condors (a species closely related to the California condor but not endangered) into the Los Padres National Forest. This experiment is an effort to observe how they adapt to the wild, as well as to perfect release techniques.
1991 Two California condors bred in captivity are released into the wild at Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres National Forest. Two Andean condors are released along with them because condors like to live in social groups.
1991 One of the released California condors dies from swallowing antifreeze.
1993 There are 63 condors alive: 56 in the San Diego Wild Animal Park and 7 in the wild.
1994 Eighty-four condors exist in captivity, while only 3 are still alive in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to continue releasing California condors but is having trouble finding suitable habitats.
1995 The captive breeding condor population grows to 103 by the end of the year.
1996 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases six young California condors on October 29, 1996, in Arizona.
1997 There are 121 California condors in the world. There are 17 in the Los Padres National Forest in California and 104 in the captive breeding facilities in San Diego.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Apr 29, 2014
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