Play a Game, Save a Species

A new mobile game gives players an idea of what it’s like to try to protect an endangered species, such as the California condor.
Condor Country game habitat; flying California condor. (Photos: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS)
Oct 23, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Ever wonder what it takes to save an endangered species? The United States Fish and Wildlife Service wants you to find out.

The federal agency tasked with protecting some of America’s most threatened animals has teamed up with the Santa Barbara Zoo to create a mobile game. Based on real-life conservation practices used to rescue the California condor from extinction, the game lets players experience what it’s like to save an endangered species.

Called Condor Country, the game is set for release Oct. 25 and simulates what zookeepers and field biologists do to help save North America’s largest bird. Players will have eggs to hatch, chicks to release into the wild, and a flock of condors to monitor for real-life health threats, including lead poisoning.

“We are revolutionizing the way that people can connect to endangered species and to the people working to save them,” Paul Souza, regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, said in a statement. “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.”

The app will be free to download for Android and IOS devices. Players will work to reintroduce condors at locations where condor rehabilitation efforts have been conducted, including the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in Southern California, Big Sur along the Central California coast, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

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“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,” Estelle Sandhaus, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s director of conservation, said in a statement. “But just like in real life, there are losses. Condors die from lead poisoning. Eggs are infertile. But the California condor can be saved, in spite of setbacks. If the condor can do it, then other endangered species can. That’s our message.”

In the real world, the critically endangered California condors are in the midst of a resurgence. The scavengers with the 10-foot wingspan nearly went extinct in the 1980s because of hunting, lead contamination, and DDT poisoning. Only 22 remained in the wild by 1987, and in a last-ditch effort to save them, scientists brought the animals into captivity and launched a breeding program.

Today more than 400 California condors survive in the wild, flying above California, Arizona, Utah, and Mexico's Baja California.