Environment: Last Days of the Condor?

North America's biggest land bird is in trouble

At two strategic places on the rim of California's San Joaquin Valley, men kneel in gravelike pits. Camouflaged with grass, they await their prey. A stillborn calf lies as bait within inches of each of the earthen blinds. Nearby, other men squat beside a row of four metal cannons, ready to fire weights attached to a 40-ft. by 50-ft. net. Frustrated, they all scan the sky, hoping that the wintry clouds collecting on the horizon do not close in. The 20-lb. Gymnogyps californianus rarely seeks food on stormy days.

The patient hunters are researchers. Their challenging assignment: to begin capturing the...

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