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Pomona Donates Rare Condor and Other Birds to Museum

Condor specimen
Professor of Biology Nina Karnovsky's Vertebrate Biology class at the donation site.

Professor of Biology Nina Karnovsky's Vertebrate Biology class at the donation site.

Pomona College donated a rare California condor specimen and more than one hundred study skins of stuffed birds collected from Belize to the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology on October 30.

Pomona Associate Professor of Biology Nina Karnovsky, along with her vertebrate biology class, delivered the specimens to enthused museum curators in Camarillo, Calif.

Although there remains some ambiguity as to how the specimens were acquired by the college, there is no doubt about their scientific value.

According to textual evidence, the condor was killed and mounted in 1884, and donated to Pomona College in 1904, at a time when taxidermic collecting was a more active and accepted hobby. With less than 400 individuals alive today, the condor is now considered one of the most endangered vertebrates in the world.

While in the Pomona Seaver South Biology building, Karnovsky often walked by the bird and ruminated upon what better scientific purpose the bird could serve.

“I thought it was cool but wrong that we had it and that it should be donated for conservation,” Karnovsky said, adding that, while the well-preserved bird specimens from Belize were interesting, the department used more local species for class instruction.

The College has a history of donating to the museum, the most notable of which was an egg collection offered to the institution in the late 1960s. The eggs, each inscribed with a number, came with corresponding field notes that later helped the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology identify a collection of similarly numbered eggs which were discovered to be part of the same set of specimens. Karnovsky’s class field trip consisted of a tour of the research facility, including their rare egg and nest collections.

“We got a tour of the basement where we saw an assortment of some really rare and special specimen, like the eggs of the now extinct elephant bird,” said Michael Mulroy PO ’10.

The museum has since kept in contact with Karnovsky, updating her on their progress with the condor. “They’re going to do a genetic analysis of the specimen as related to other condors,” Karnovsky said. “They’re also going to make a display for the public and make it open for researchers to come from all over to study it.”

An upper-division class taken by many science majors, Karnovsky’s vertebrate biology class regularly incorporates excursions such as this one into its lab schedule. This semester, students have taken trips to see the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Bernard Field Station, and to visit Pomona alumnus Matt Barbour ’07 at a lab where he studies rattlesnakes.

This article was originally published in the November 13, 2009, edition of The Student Life. Photos by Nina Karnovsky.