Jan Hamber - Protector of the Condor
Of all the species faced with extinction, few came as close and meant so much as the California condor. “It was the symbol of wilderness,” recalled Jam Hamber, who’s fought for the bird’s survival since the 1970s. “It was the symbol of freedom.”
Wanting to be a naturalist since age 9, Hamber started bird-watching as a Cornell University student in the 1950s, and began volunteering in 1959 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where, among other duties, she painted the tule reeds, set cactus spines in the original bird exhibit, and helped clean birds after the great oil spill of 1969, the year she was also hired as an employee. In the mid 1970s, legendary naturalist Dick Smith needed help tracking condors, and she signed right up. “It was my dream to be an outdoor naturalist, not an indoor naturalist,” said Hamber, who still works at the museum today as a condor archivist. “It was my dream come true.”
From 1976-1985, Hamber tracked a pair of condors named Groucho and Spot and participated in many of the recovery program’s milestones, including her call to the trappers who captured the last wild condor. “It was one of the hardest things I ever did,” said Hamber of that event on Easter Sunday 1987. “It still affects me.” But she doesn’t regret it, never agreeing that, as some argue, the bird should have gone extinct with dignity. “I don’t think there’s anything dignified about being poisoned with lead and slowly dying in a month,” said Hamber, who’s frustrated that lead ammunition remains the dominant yet preventable cause of condor woes.
Thanks to Hamber and the countless others she’s worked with over the years, those 27 last condors bred and are now 410 individuals, including 230 flying free in the wild. Said Hamber, “My goal has always been to save the species.”