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Yesterday, Grand Canyon officials took to social media to discourage visitors from placing “love locks” in the park due to the harm they can cause to wildlife.
“Love is strong, but it is not as strong as our bolt cutters,” the park’s post said.
A popular display of love and commitment across the globe, “love locks” are just padlocks that couples place on structures like bridges to seal a relationship, often throwing the keys off afterward. The idea is intended to represent the lasting bond that lovers have to one another. But it also poses a risk to one of America’s most endangered birds.
“Leaving pad locks like this is littering and a form of graffiti,” wrote officials. “But because people will throw their padlock key into the canyon the scenario becomes worse and more dangerous specifically for a rare and endangered animal of the canyon.”
The California condor is a scavenging bird that’s known for picking up shiny things like coins, foil, and even keys. But condors that are unlucky enough to consume this type of trash are typically unable to pass it, which in extreme cases can put them in surgery or even result in their deaths.
“Condors are curious animals and much like a small child will investigate strange things they come across with their mouths,” the NPS wrote. “Condors love shiny things. They will spot a coin, a wrapper, or a shiny piece of metal, like a key from a padlock that has been tossed into the canyon and eat it.”
Condors are among America’s most endangered birds due to factors like habitat destruction, and their extremely low reproductive rate. At the species’s nadir in 1987, only 22 of the birds survived, all of them in captivity. While the condor population has rebounded—a survey counted 347 in the wild last year, with another 214 in captivity—the love lock trend could contribute to further destruction of the species.
Protected by federal law since 1967, the condor’s main cause of death over the past 200 years has been human-related. And it’s not just condors that are at risk of consuming love locks. Crows and other species are also known for their attraction to shiny objects.
“Objects are thrown from the rim every day,” the park wrote. “Padlocks and trash are not anomalies limited to the Grand Canyon. Do your part to not contribute to these bad habits and inform others of what can happen to the wildlife if these behaviors continue.”