California Condor Release Set for Next Weekend

A California condor. | Courtesy of John Sherman

The public can get a rare glimpse of one of the world's rarest birds at an annual Northern Arizona event next weekend.

On Saturday, September 22, at 11 a.m., The Peregrine Fund will release captive-bred California condors from holding pens atop the Vermilion Cliffs, north of the Grand Canyon. (The event was originally scheduled for September 29, but it's been rescheduled to coincide with National Public Lands Day.)

The public can view the release from an observation area below the cliffs, along House Rock Valley Road (Bureau of Land Management Road 1065). Spotting scopes will be provided, but visitors can take their own scopes or binoculars. They also should bring sunscreen, water, a chair, a hat and layered clothing, The Peregrine Fund says.

As Arizona Highways reported in 2015, there are fewer than 100 California condors in the wild in Arizona and Utah. The species has been decimated by poisoning from lead bullets in carcasses scavenged by the birds, and the condors nearly went extinct in the early 1980s. The Peregrine Fund conducts releases of captive-bred condors every September, and the birds later make their way to places such as Navajo Bridge and the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

For more information about next weekend's release event, visit the Condor Cliffs Facebook page.

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Grand Canyon Using GPS Collars to Track Elk

Elk at the Grand Canyon. | Dave Knox

Grand Canyon National Park's wildlife experts are using a high-tech tool to help them track some of the Canyon's best-known animal residents.

Ten of the park's elk are being outfitted with GPS collars so wildlife biologists can gather data on their movement, the park announced in a news release last week. That data will be used to help develop a management plan for the animals, which can often be seen around the developed areas of the South Rim.

According to the news release, the elk will be tracked for two years to help biologists understand their movement and interaction with South Rim visitors and residents. The scientists will be looking at what areas of the park are attracting the elk, along with how they move seasonally around Grand Canyon Village.

The adult elk selected for the project all weigh at least 300 pounds, the park said. The collars weigh 2 pounds, will not harm the animals and will fall off once the project is complete, according to the news release.

Park officials also reminded Grand Canyon visitors to stay at least 100 feet, or two bus lengths, away from elk at the Canyon.

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It's Tortoise Adoption Season

Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

It's that time of year again: The Arizona Game and Fish Department is looking for new homes for its population of captive desert tortoises.

In a video posted to Facebook this month, the department said its wildlife center is "full up on tortoises." Every year, the agency adopts captive tortoises that cannot be released back into the wild. Doing so could introduce diseases in the wild population, Game and Fish says.

If you're a permanent Arizona resident and are looking for a new pet, desert tortoises are easier to care for than you might think. You'll need an area of your yard that includes a shelter where the tortoise can hibernate during the winter months, and you'll need to keep food, ideally native plants, available for it to eat.

Perhaps most importantly, you'll need to commit to the reptile for the long haul, including making a plan for what happens to it after you die. Desert tortoises can live for 100 years or longer, Game and Fish says.

As a reminder, it's illegal to take desert tortoises from the wild.

For more information on tortoise adoption, visit the department's website.

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Arizona Prairie Dog Tests Positive for Plague

Gunnison's prairie dogs. | Bruce D. Taubert

A prairie dog in Northern Arizona tested positive for plague last month, and now, Arizona wildlife officials are offering tips for preventing the spread of a potentially deadly disease.

As ABC15 reported earlier this month, the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced that the plague-infected prairie dog was found in Coconino County. The disease, which is transmitted by fleas, can infect a variety of wild animals, along with domestic animals and humans. Moisture during the summer monsoon often helps the fleas proliferate, officials said.

Game and Fish offered the following tips to prevent the spread of plague:

  • Do not handle sick or dead animals.
  • Prevent pets from roaming loose. Pets can pick up the infected fleas. De-flea pets routinely. Contact your veterinarian for specific recommendations.
  • Avoid rodent burrows and fleas.
  • Use insect repellents when visiting or working in areas where plague might be active or rodents might be present (campers, hikers, woodcutters and hunters).
  • Wear rubber gloves and other protection when cleaning and skinning wild animals.
  • Do not camp next to rodent burrows, and avoid sleeping directly on the ground.
  • In case of illness, see your physician immediately, as treatment with antibiotics is very effective.

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Wildlife Officials Battle Invasive Snails on Salt River

A cluster of apple snail eggs clings to vegetation. | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

A popular aquarium pet is becoming a nuisance on one of Arizona's best-known waterways.

As Cronkite News reported last week, officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department are trying to eradicate apple snails from the lower section of the Salt River, northeast of the Phoenix area. The snails likely were introduced to the river via the aquarium trade.

The snails have shells that can grow up to 6 inches long, a Game and Fish official told Cronkite News. They also eat a lot of vegetation and have few predators in the area, because they don't taste good, she said.

Adding to the problem is the fact that apple snails reproduce rapidly. One female can produce up to 15,000 offspring in a year, Game and Fish said. And the snails can carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans.

The department perodically conducts removal events with workers and volunteers. One such event, earlier this summer, removed about 3,500 egg masses and more than 700 apple snails from a section of the lower Salt River.

To find out more about volunteering for a removal event, visit the department's website.

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Jaguar Photographed in Arizona Is Believed to Be Dead, Officials Say

This trail camera photo shows a jaguar in the Huachuca Mountains of Southern Arizona. The jaguar is thought to have died recently. | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

One of the only jaguars to be caught on camera in Arizona in recent years is believed to have died, conservationists and federal officials said last month.

As the Associated Press and other outlets reported, the male jaguar, which was photographed in Southern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains in 2016 and 2017, had spot patterns that match a recent photo of a jaguar pelt. The Tucson-based Northern Jaguar Project acquired a copy of the photo, and several Arizona Game and Fish Department officials believe it is the same jaguar, the AP reported.

The group did not say where it got the photo and did not know where it was taken, the AP reported.

At one point, jaguars were fairly common in the southern United States, but hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction in the U.S. There are many more jaguars in Mexico, but even there, the big cat occupies only a fraction of its historical range, especially in the country's northern areas.

Another male jaguar, known as El Jefe, is thought to be living in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson. After the apparent death of the other jaguar, El Jefe could be the only jaguar still living north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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An 'outLANDish' Look at Arizona's Fossil Creek

Courtesy of Your Forests Your Future

A recent episode of a forest-themed podcast explored one of Arizona's most popular recreation destinations.

Fossil Creek was the focus of the "outLANDish" podcast, which is produced by Your Forests Your Future — a project by the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations. The project, according to its website, is "a national campaign to get Americans involved in shaping the future of their forests."

Of the Fossil Creek podcast, the group had this to say: "On this episode of outLANDish, we explore one of our nation's raddest rivers, hidden in the great Arizona desert. Fossil Creek was one of the last hideouts of the Apache, subject to power plants and dams, hosts a Shangri-La of hot springs. Tune in for the adventure on this Wild & Scenic River."

You can listen to the podcast right here, or on the Your Forests Your Future website.

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Grand Canyon Officials Offer Tips for Safe Wildlife Viewing

Chelsea Clair | Grand Canyon

As Grand Canyon National Park visitation enters its peak season, park rangers are reminding the public of the dangers of a too-close encounter with one of the park's animals.

In fact, the park said in a news release this month, Canyon rangers have had to respond to several recent interactions between humans and animals. One of those interactions resulted in "serious, but not life-threatening" injuries to a visitor, the park said.

Park officials noted that the national park lacks fences to separate people from wildlife. On the South Rim, that often means close encounters with elk, which are drawn by the presence of food and water. In spring and summer, female elk can become protective of their calves, while male elk are aggressive during the fall breeding season, the park said.

Other animals, including squirrels and ravens, can also pose a threat when they approach people in search of food. Occasionally, visitors' hands are bitten by these animals.

The park offered the following guidelines for dealing with wildlife at the Canyon:

  • Take your time. Wildlife are more active during dawn or dusk, which also has some of the best lighting for photos.
  • Follow the rule of thumb: If you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb, you're at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife.
  • Use binoculars or a camera with zoom to view animals from a safe distance. To steady your shot, rest your elbows on your ribcage or knees.
  • Stay quiet and still, and on the safe side of railings. Noise and quick movements can threaten wildlife.
  • Use field guides to help you identify what you're seeing.

The park asked anyone who sees an animal acting aggressively toward people, or people approaching or harassing wildlife, to report the incident to the park's communications center by calling 928-638-7805 (or dialing 911 while in the park).

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Could Arizona's Volcanoes Erupt? Sure — but Not for a While

Sunset Crater, northeast of Flagstaff, is the most recent cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field to erupt. That was about 1,000 years ago. It's now a national monument. | Jeremy Perez

As a volcanic eruption continues to cause concern in Hawaii, some Arizonans are asking: Could it happen in our state?

But as Phoenix radio station KTAR reported this month, eruptions in Arizona probably wouldn't cause much havoc — other than an increase in tourist traffic.

A U.S. Geological Survey scientist told the radio station that Arizona's best-known volcanic field — the San Francisco Volcanic Field, near Flagstaff — has been erupting once every 5,000 to 10,000 years or so, and the last eruption was about a thousand years ago. "We don't expect another eruption to happen very soon," he said.

He added, though, that volcanology isn't an exact science, and that it's possible for volcanoes to go "off schedule." But if that happened, the volcanoes in the Flagstaff area aren't close enough to populated areas to do much damage, he said. Additionally, "this kind of eruption would be quite fun to watch," he said.

Unlike some volcanic regions, the San Francisco Volcanic Field is made up of cinder cone volcanoes, which typically do not experience explosive eruptions. The lava simply oozes out of them, similar to what's going on now with Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, the USGS expert said.

The San Francisco Peaks themselves are the remnants of a collapsed stratovolcano that did violently erupt long ago, scientists say. But the Peaks themselves now are considered extinct. 

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It's Wildfire Season: Use InciWeb to Stay Prepared

The Rattlesnake Fire burns in Eastern Arizona's White Mountains in mid-April. | Courtesy of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests

Arizona's wildfire season seemed to get an early start this year, and major blazes have already made major news. If you're planning a day trip or weekend excursion into or through Arizona's national forests, here are some tips for steering clear of fires.

Before you head out on a trip, we recommend you check the newly redesigned InciWeb, a website run by several federal agencies — including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. The site features an interactive map where you can click on any currently burning forest fire, in Arizona or elsewhere, and get more information about it.

Each fire has its own page that includes an overview of the situation, updates about road or campsite closures, how the fire is thought to have started, what percentage of the blaze is contained, and information about any evacuations that have been ordered. For some fires, you'll also see an interactive map of the fire perimeter.


Each incident also has links you can use to follow the situation on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.

We hope you find this information helpful as you plan your vacation. And remember what Smokey Bear says: Only you can prevent forest fires — so be sure to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles of fire safety.

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