Photo Essay: How Pollution Is
Devastating an Indonesian Lake
More than 1,500 tons of fish suddenly turned up dead in Indonesia’s largest lake earlier this year, a mass asphyxiation caused by high pollution levels. The event threatened the livelihoods of hundreds of fish farmers and the drinking water for thousands of people, and it shed light on the rapidly declining conditions in Lake Toba, the world’s largest volcanic lake. In a photo essay for Yale Environment 360
, Binsar Bakkara visits the lake he grew up on to chronicle the destruction. View the photos.
21 Oct 2016:
Scientists Report Finding DNA
Mutations That Caused Snakes to Lose Legs
A mutation in the DNA of some reptiles about 150 million years ago switched off the gene responsible for forming limbs — leading to the
A green tree python.
creation of modern day snakes, according to two studies published week. The findings were discovered by two independent teams of researchers, which reported their results separately in the journals Current Biology
. Some snakes, including pythons and boas, still have tiny leg bones inside their bodies, remnants of this evolutionary history; but most species lost their legs starting about100 million years ago. The scientists traced the mutation back to a docking site for proteins, known as an enhancer, situated in front of the Sonic hedgehog
gene, which controls limb development. They found that the enhancer is simply switched off, not broken. When the missing DNA was fixed and the modified enhancer was put in mice, they grew legs like normal
The Moth Snowstorm: Finding
True Value in Nature’s Riches
It is the blizzard of moths that Michael McCarthy remembers most vividly. As a boy, his family would take summer nighttime drives to the English coast,
and the car headlights and windshield would soon be so splattered with moths they would have to stop to clean them off. “That phenomenon has gone,” says McCarthy. “It’s disappeared because there has been a horrendous crash in moth numbers in the U.K.” His recent book, The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy
, offers a defense of the natural world rooted in the joy and spiritual nourishment it provides. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, McCarthy, a British journalist, talks about the loss of wildlife; how the decline in species abundance, as opposed to extinctions, is overlooked; and why he thinks putting a monetary value on so-called ecosystem services is too limiting. “You can say mangrove swamps are worth so many billion dollars,” he says. “But what about birdsong? How much is birdsong worth?”
Read the interview.
12 Oct 2016:
First Bees in the U.S. Get
Protection Under Endangered Species Act
Seven species of yellow-faced bees found on the islands of Hawaii have been officially listed as “endangered"
A yellow-faced bee.
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) — making them the first bees in the nation to be given protection under the Endangered Species Act. The seven species, which include Hylaeus anthracinus, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, H. longiceps
, and H. mana
, pollinate some of Hawaii’s most threatened plants and live in a variety of Hawaiian ecosystems, from the coast, to dry forests, to subalpine shrublands, reported Mongabay
. Scientists and conservation groups had been petitioning FWS to protect the bees for more than five years
, citing habitat degradation, predation, and rapidly declining population numbers. The federal agency released the new rule late last month. The rule also gave protection to three additional animal species and 39 plant species, all from Hawaii.
30 Sep 2016:
Governments Vote to Ban the
Sale of World’s Most Trafficked Mammal
The international body that governs wildlife trade voted this week to ban the sale of pangolins
, an aardvark-like animal that is
A ground pangolin in South Africa.
currently the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Pangolins are found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and are sought after for their meat and scales
, the latter of which are believed by some in East Asia to have medicinal purposes. Pangolins are shy, cat-sized mammals that eat ants and termites, and when threatened they curl into a ball rather than defending themselves. Nearly one million pangolins have been trafficked in the past decade, according to National Geographic
. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed all eight species of pangolin as endangered or threatened with extinction.
26 Sep 2016:
Elephants in Africa Suffer Large
Declines as Poaching Worsens in the Region
Elephant populations in Africa fell about 20 percent between 2006 and 2015 — the worst decline in a quarter-century, according to a
new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
An African elephant.
(IUCN). The continent’s elephant population dropped by 111,000 individuals over the last decade. The IUCN said a recent surge in poaching for ivory, which it called “the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s,” is largely to blame for the decline. East Africa, for example, has lost almost 50 percent of its historical elephant population, according to the report. In West Africa, 12 populations of elephants have been completely lost since 2006. “It is shocking, but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” IUCN director general Inger Andersen said in a statement. The IUCN also named habitat loss as a major contributor to the decline.
What’s Killing the Native Birds in
The Mountain Forests of Kauai?
The few remaining species of native forest birds left on the Hawaiian island of Kauai have suffered population declines so severe — 98 percent in one case — that some are near extinction.
The cause of the collapse, according to a recent study in the journal Science Advances
, is not alien plants or predators, but rather warming temperatures that have enabled non-native mosquitoes carrying deadly avian malaria to invade the birds’ high-elevation strongholds. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Eben Paxton
, an avian ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study’s lead author, says his group’s research showed that the mosquitoes moved into the Alakai Plateau over the last decade, infecting the birds and pushing their populations to a tipping point. He cites a number of approaches for eradicating the mosquitoes, including releasing irradiated infertile males and using genetically modified mosquitoes. “The way that we view Kauai,” he says, “is that it's an early warning system for the rest of the islands.”
Read the interview.
16 Sep 2016:
New Survey Highlights Recent
Widespread Bird Loss in North America
North America has 1.5 billion fewer birds flying its skies than it did 40 years ago, according to a new survey
by dozens of U.S. and Canadian scientists
A young snowy owl.
working at government agencies, universities, and non-profits. More than one-third of common land bird species have declined by more than 15 percent since 1970, and 46 species have lost more than half of their populations, the report found. Snowy owl numbers, for example, dropped 64 percent between 1970 and 2014. The report does not include waterfowl species, such as ducks. The scientists said land use changes, habitat loss, and climate change were main factors behind the long-term population declines. It also found collisions with power lines, buildings, and vehicles caused 900 million bird deaths each year, and domestic and feral cats kill another 2.6 billion. The report, Landbird Conservation Plan 2016, was published by the research collaborative Partners in Flight.
15 Sep 2016:
Obama Announces First
Marine Protected Area off U.S. East Coast
President Obama is creating a 4,913-square-mile marine monument off the New England coast, adding to a long list of marine protected areas established in recent years by the Obama and Bush administrations. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, contains massive undersea canyons and towering seamounts and is the first fully protected federal marine reserve off the eastern seaboard. The area is home to deep-sea corals, sharks, deep-diving marine mammals, whales, and sea turtles, and is a rich fishing ground. The fishing industry objected to the creation of the marine monument, arguing that existing fisheries management laws were sufficient to protect the area. Under the new designation, commercial fishing will be phased out over seven years. Obama has also recently created massive marine reserves off Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast, and today a quarter of U.S. waters are under strong federal protection.
12 Sep 2016:
Dolphins Speak in Ways Similar
To Human Conversation, Finds New Study
Dolphins communicate in a way very similar to how humans talk, saying up to five complex “words” in a sentence and pausing to listen to each other before speaking, according to a new study
. Researchers at the T. I. Vyazemsky Karadag Scientific Station in Russia observed the conversation
in two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, known as Yasha and Yana. “The dolphins took turns producing pulse packs [words and phrases] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other's pulses before producing its own,” the scientists wrote in the study. “This language exhibits all the design features present in human spoken language, [indicating] a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins.”
09 Sep 2016:
Popular Insecticide Reduces
Queen Bees’ Ability To Lay Eggs, Study Finds
A new study has found neonicotinoids, the world’s most commonly used insecticide, cause queen honeybees to lay as much as two-thirds fewer eggs,
A queen bee surrounded by members of her colony.
jeopardizing the health and stability of entire bee colonies. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Minnesota, was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports
. "The queens are… the only reproductive individual laying eggs in the colony," said lead author Judy Wu-Smart
. "If her ability to lay eggs is reduced, that is a subtle effect that isn't (immediately) noticeable, but translates to really dramatic consequences for the colony." The scientists also found colonies exposed to imidacloprid, a type of neonicotinoids, collected and stored less pollen than insecticide-free colonies, and removed just 74 percent of mite-infested or diseased pupae that can infect the entire hive, compared to 95 percent removal by unexposed bees.
08 Sep 2016:
The World Has Lost 10 Percent
Of Its Wilderness Over Last Two Decades
The world has lost one-tenth of its wilderness — an area twice the size of Alaska — over the last 20 years, scientists reported this week in the journal Current Biology
Wilderness loss since the early 1990s.
The hardest hit areas have been the Amazon and Central Africa, which have been plagued by rampant and unregulated logging and other industrial activities in recent decades. The scientists found there are 11.6 million square miles of wilderness remaining on earth, largely located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia. "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening," said lead author of the study James Watson
, a biologist at the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "You cannot restore wilderness. Once it is gone, the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left."
02 Sep 2016:
Scientists Have Found
Another Massive Reef In Australia
Scientists have discovered a massive, deepwater reef
along the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia. The newly charted,
A newly mapped bioherm reef in Australia.
1.5 million-acre marine ecosystem contains thousands of donut-shaped rings known as bioherms, built by the green algae Halimeda
, each of which measure 650 to 1,000 feet across and 66 feet thick. Scientists have known the rings were there since the 1970s, but had no idea how extensive the reef was, said Robin Beaman
, a marine geologist at James Cook University and one of the co-authors of the research. Using LiDAR surveying technology, the Australian scientists found the bioherm reef is three times larger than previously estimated. The structures have likely been built over the past 10,000 years, the scientists said, and will provide clues on how the environment has changed over that time. The research was published in the journal Coral Reefs
01 Sep 2016:
Newly Discovered Fossils Break
Record, Dating Back 3.7 Billion Years Ago
Geologists have found fossils in Greenland dating back 3.7 billion years — the oldest evidence of life on earth discovered to date. The layers of stromatolites, which are made up of fossilized microbes,
3.7 billion-year-old fossils found in Greenland.
were found in the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks, the Isua supracrustal belt along the edge of the Greenland ice cap. They predate the previous fossil record holder by roughly 220 million years, according to Allen Nutman
, a geologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia and lead author of the new findings, published in the journal Nature
this week. The fossils “indicate that as long as 3.7 billion years ago, microbial life was already diverse,” said Nutman. “This diversity shows that life emerged within the first few hundred millions years of Earth’s existence, which is in keeping with biologists’ calculations showing the great antiquity of life’s genetic code.”
Interview: Exploring How and
Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other
Two decades ago, while researching her doctoral thesis, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil
– in other words, she found, they “talk” to each other. Since then, Simard, now at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered further research into how trees converse, including how these fungal filigrees help trees send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. Simard is now focused on understanding how these vital communication systems, which she compares to neural networks in human brains, could be disrupted by environmental threats, such as climate change, pine beetle infestations, and logging. “These networks will go on,” she told Yale Environment 360
. “Whether they're beneficial to native plant species, or exotics, or invader weeds and so on, that remains to be seen.” Read the interview.
30 Aug 2016:
To Stop Poachers, Zimbabwe
Begins Dehorning Entire Rhino Population
Zimbabwe reportedly plans to dehorn its more than 700 rhinos by the end of the year in an effort to discourage illegal poaching. Poachers killed a record 1,305 rhinos throughout Africa last year,
A recently dehorned white female rhino in Zimbabwe.
including 50 in Zimbabwe, double what the country experienced in 2014. Despite an international ban on buying or selling rhino horn that has been in effect since 1977, the substance is a prized traditional medicine in Asia, thought to boost virility and cure cancer. "We want to send a message to poachers that they will not get much if they come to Zimbabwe,” Lisa Marabini, director of operations with Aware Trust Zimbabwe, which is helping the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority remove horns, told Reuters
. Zimbabwe officials said dehorning a rhino costs $1,200. According to Bloomberg
, they have already dehorned 45 animals, and are looking for donors to help fund the rest.
24 Aug 2016:
How Elephant Seals Are
Helping Scientists Study Climate Change
A group of southern elephant seals is helping scientists monitor
how climate change is impacting Antarctica by tracking water temperature, depth, and salinity as they swim and dive around the frozen continent.
An elephant seal wearing a data tracker.
Most recently, data from the seals — which routinely dive to depths of 1,000 to 2,000 feet — showed that water melting off the Antarctic ice sheet is causing the surrounding seas to become less salty, disrupting a conveyor belt-like system that transfers heat and nutrients around the globe. The new findings were published this week in the journal Nature Communications
. The elephant seal data, as well as records from monitoring devices on other marine mammals, have generated more than 500,000 vertical profiles of temperature and salinity in the world’s oceans and helped inform nearly 100 scientific studies. “"At the moment it's all about filling gaps” in the environmental records, lead author Guy Williams of the University of Tasmania told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
. “The [seals] have gone to areas where we've never had an observation before."
23 Aug 2016:
Study Shows Humans Learning
To Use Natural Resources More Efficiently
Humanity’s influence on the natural world is widespread, but a new study published in the journal Nature Communications
finds promising signs that we are slowly learning to live in a more sustainable way. The study found that between 1993 and 2009, the global population grew 23 percent and the global economy grew 153 percent. Meanwhile, the global human footprint grew only 9 percent over the same period. "Seeing that our impacts have expanded at a rate that is slower than the rate of economic and population growth is encouraging," said lead author Oscar Venter, an ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia. "It means we are becoming more efficient in how we use natural resources." The study authors warned, however, that even with the good news, human activity affects 75 percent of the planet’s surface and remains “perversely intense, widespread, and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.”
19 Aug 2016:
Scientists Find 1,075-Year-Old
Tree in Northern Greece, Europe’s Oldest
Scientists have discovered the oldest known living tree
in Europe, dating it at more than 1,075 years old. The Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii
) — a densely branched, slow-growing tree —
Europe's oldest tree, a Bosnian pine, in Greece.
was found in northern Greece, high in the Pindus Mountains. A team of Swedish, German, and U.S. scientists extracted a core of the tree’s one-meter thick trunk, and counted the rings that mark its annual growth—a dating technique known as dendrochronology. They found the tree started its life in 941. "I am impressed, in the context of Western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree, all the empires – the Byzantine, the Ottoman – all the people living in this region,” said University of Stockholm dendrochronologist Paul Krusic, who led the research. “So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years."
18 Aug 2016:
Urine From Large Fish Critical
To Reef Health—And Fishing Is Reducing It
Studies have shown that large fish such as grouper, snapper, and barracuda release key nutrients essential for healthy coral reefs through their urine and body tissue.
A barracuda swims along a Caribbean coral reef.
Now, new research in Nature Communications
has found that in areas where fishing occurs, nearly half of these nutrients are missing from the reefs, threatening their well-being. The study was conducted by four U.S. scientists, who surveyed 143 fish species at 110 sites across 43 Caribbean coral reefs, with varying levels of fishing activity, from marine preserves where anglers are banned to heavily fished reefs. “This study is useful to understand alternative ways fishing is affecting coral reef ecosystems,” said Jacob Allgeier
, an ecologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the new study. “Simply stated, fish biomass in coral reefs is being reduced by fishing pressure. If biomass is shrinking, there are fewer fish to pee.”
11 Aug 2016:
Shipping Noise Causes Whales
To Dive More Slowly and Forage Less
Ocean noise caused by shipping can cause humpback whales to dive more slowly and forage less frequently, according to new research
in the journal Biology Letters
A humpback whale diving.
A team of U.S. and U.K. researchers tagged 10 humpbacks in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts, with devices that simultaneously tracked the whales’ movements and underwater noise. They found that as ship noise increased
, the whales dove 15 percent more slowly and did one-third fewer side-roll feedings, a foraging technique humpbacks use to catch fish near the seafloor. The findings are the latest addition to a growing list of negative impacts
from ocean noise on marine mammals, including disrupted communication, higher stress levels, and increased vulnerability as acoustic pollution masks predator movement. “Chronic impacts of even small reductions in foraging efficiency could affect individual fitness and translate to population-level effects on humpback whales,” the scientists wrote.
04 Aug 2016:
UNESCO Moves To Expand
World Heritage Sites Into the Deep Ocean
UNESCO has launched a campaign
to include deep-sea ecosystems in its list of World Heritage Sites. Previously, only sites within national jurisdiction,
A Dumbo octopus in the deep sea.
either on land or close to shore, could be given heritage status and UNESCO protection. But ecosystems within the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet, deserve similar classification, UNESCO says. In a new report, World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
, the organization presents five biodiversity hotspots—many of which are at risk from climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and deep-sea mining—worthy of recognition: the Costa Rica Thermal Dome; the White Shark Café, a shark gathering point in the Pacific Ocean; the Sargasso Sea; the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, with its 200-foot carbonate towers, in the Atlantic Ocean; and the Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island, in the Indian Ocean.
29 Jul 2016:
Changing Arctic Tundra Could
Radically Alter Shorebird Breeding Grounds
A new study projects that global warming could dramatically affect the tundra breeding habitat of 24 shorebird species, with 66 percent to 83 percent losing most of their suitable nesting territories.
Shifts in Arctic shorebirds.
Researchers modeled breeding conditions for these migratory shorebird species — some of which travel more than 10,000 miles from Antarctica or southern South America to breed in the Arctic — and compared projected 21st century conditions to the last major warming event more than 6,000 years ago. The study, published in Global Change Biology
, concluded that a warming and drying tundra could force many species to shift their breeding territories to the Arctic coastline by 2070, causing some birds to completely change their migration routes. “Climate change is also opening up the Arctic to threats such as mining and tourism, and we must make sure we protect key places for all Arctic species, including these amazing migratory birds,” lead author Hannah Wauchope said in a University of Queensland press release
26 Jul 2016:
New Zealand to Eradicate
All Rats, Stoats, and Possums by 2050
New Zealand is launching a $28 million initiative
to eliminate all rats, stoats, and possums from the country by 2050.
A black rat.
The invasive predators — which hitchhiked or were purposely brought to the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries — cost New Zealand’s economy an estimated $13.3 billion a year
by destroying habitat, spreading disease, and killing vulnerable, native species. Invasive predators kill around 25 million native New Zealand birds every year, such as the kiwi and the kakapo, a flightless parrot with a population of just 126 in 2014, according to National Geographic
. The initiative aims to remove rats, possums, and stoats — a member of the weasel family — from 2.5 million acres of land by 2025, and then eradicate the remaining populations using traps or poisoned bait by 2050. If total extermination isn’t possible, the organizers hope the three species can at least be eliminated on the country’s offshore island nature reserves.
21 Jul 2016:
South Africa’s Great White
Shark Population At Risk of Extinction
South Africa’s great white sharks are at risk of disappearing due to pollution, human interference, and a limited gene pool, according to a new study in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series
A great white shark.
Scientists from Stellenbosch University spent six years tracking great white populations in Gansbaai, a fishing town and shark hotspot in western South Africa. They estimated there are 350 to 520 great whites remaining along the country’s coastline — 52 percent fewer than previously thought. "The numbers… are extremely low. If the situation stays the same, South Africa's great white sharks are heading for possible extinction," Sara Andreotti, a marine biologist and lead author of the study, said in a statement
. The scientists said shark nets, poaching, habitat encroachment, pollution, and loss of food were all to blame for the sharks’ demise. Low genetic diversity among the remaining sharks would make it difficult for the population to bounce back, they said.
18 Jul 2016:
Following El Nino, Amazon
At Risk of Intense Wildfire Season
As a result of the recent El Nino, the Amazon rainforest is the driest it has been at the start of a dry season since 2002 — setting “the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016” in the region,
The Amazon rainforest.
NASA warned in a new fire forecast for South America
. The risk for wildfire this year now exceeds the risk in 2005 and 2010, years when wildfires burned large swaths of the forest, the scientists found. Terrestrial water storage, or soil moisture, is also lower than previous years, NASA said. “When trees have less moisture to draw upon at the beginning of the dry season, they become more vulnerable to fire and evaporate less water into the atmosphere,” said
UC-Irvine scientist Jim Randerson, who helped create the forecast. “This puts millions of trees under stress and lowers humidity across the region, allowing fires to grow bigger than they normally would.”
06 Jul 2016:
As Oceans Become More Acidic,
Mussels Could Lose Ability to Hang On
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the world’s oceans to become 30 percent more acidic
since the Industrial Revolution, affecting everything from marine life’s ability to build shells
Trossulus byssus mussels.
to the pH level of fishes’ blood. Now, scientists have discovered that more acidic water also prevents mussels from attaching
to rocks and other surfaces, which could have ramifications on the global food chain, the economy, and ecosystem health. Oceans today have a pH of about 8.1. When the pH drops below 7.6, the adhesive plaque that cements mussels to hard surfaces becomes weaker, according to the new research by scientists at the University of Washington. Unattached mussels are easy prey for predators like crabs, fish, and sea stars. Mussels play an important role in filtering pollutants from waterways. They are also a critical food source for coastal communities, with the industry worth an estimated $1.4 billion.
20 Jun 2016:
2015 Deadliest Year for
Environmentalists on Record, Finds Report
Last year was the deadliest year on record for environmentalists, according to a new report from Global Witness
, a nonprofit that tracks environmental and human rights abuses worldwide.
Indigenous people protest a dam in the Amazon.
One hundred and eighty-five people were killed trying to stop development of land, forests, and rivers in 16 countries in 2015 — equal to more than three people per week. The tally represents a 59 percent increase over 2014, and is double the number of journalists killed in the same period, according to the report. Environmentalists were most at risk in Brazil, the Philippines, and Columbia, which had 50, 33, and 26 killings last year, respectively. “This report sheds light on the acute vulnerability of indigenous people, whose weak land rights and geographic isolation make them particularly exposed to land grabbing for natural resource exploitation,” the Global Witness authors wrote. “In 2015, almost 40% of victims were indigenous.”
16 Jun 2016:
Some Coral Reef “Bright Spots”
Remain, Despite Devastating Bleaching
After decades of being overfished and mismanaged, and the worst bleaching event on record this year, scientists reported in the journal Nature this week
that there remain some “bright spots” among the world’s coral reefs
Coral reef on the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific.
– systems that are doing better than anyone expected. The study examined 18 different factors at 2,514 reefs in 46 nations, including water depth, tourism, fishing, and population density. Those systems that were still thriving — defined by the scientists as having more fish than expected — tended to be managed by, and accessible only to, local fishermen and indigenous groups. This included reefs in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Kiribati. “There’s been a narrative about local involvement, but it’s often very token,” Joshua Cinner, a research fellow at James Cook University in Australia and lead author of the study, told The Atlantic
. He said there should be more opportunity for “communities to creatively confront their own challenges.”
California Condor Population
Reaches New Heights in 2015
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced what it called a milestone for the California condor: More chicks had hatched and fledged in the wild during 2015 than the number of condors that died,
bringing the total in the wild to 270. It was perhaps the most promising news about the condor in decades. After their numbers dropped to just 22 in the 1980s, the U.S. government began rounding up the birds for a last-ditch captive breeding program, then gradually released newly bred birds to the wild. The program was highly controversial, and the condors’ return to the wild over the past two and a half decades has been fraught with peril. But biologists have noted encouraging signs in recent years: The birds have expanded their range, are more likely to engage in wild behaviors, and have begun foraging for their own food.