California Condor Update
In 1982, the world’s population of California condors was down to 22 birds, which is the number of players allowed on the field during a football game. That year also marked San Diego Zoo Global’s first involvement with the California Condor Recovery Program.
Over the past 31 years, we have collaborated with our partners in the Recovery Program to help bring the condors’ population up to 424 birds. Of these, 223 are now flying free in the skies of southern and central California, northern Arizona, and northern Baja California, Mexico. Although this is a big population increase since 1982, California condors are still considered critically endangered.
For the 2013 breeding season, we had six California condor chicks hatch at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, bringing our total number of condors hatched here to 183; 129 of which have been released to the wild.
California condors that are expected to be released are called “release candidates.” We raise all of our condor chicks as if they are release candidates. They are isolated from human contact. We offer their food through a chute in the wall. The pools are drained and rinsed from the outside of the pen. We don’t pick up any of their old food.
The only time the birds see us is during a medical procedure: affixing wingtags, pre-shipment examinations, or West Nile Virus inoculations. These generally are not enjoyable experiences for the young condors, and that is what we want them to learn from us before they are shipped to the wild. We don’t want them to associate humans with anything beneficial. We are hoping to foster behaviors that wild condors would have: avoiding human activity and hazardous, artificial situations. Survival rates for condors that become accustomed to humans and human activity are very low.
Because of the necessary isolation, it has been very difficult to share in the experience of condors hatching and raising their chicks, until recently. Now you can watch this process on the San Diego Zoo Global CondorCam!
This was the second year that we were able to provide the public a glimpse into an active condor nest. Thousands of excited viewers logged on to watch one of our chicks, named Cuyamaca, hatch live online on March 26, 2013. Viewers had the opportunity to witness egg incubation, feeding sessions, and social development of the young chick.
Her parents, Sisquoc & Shatash, were featured on last year’s CondorCam when they raised their previous chick, Saticoy. Saticoy was released to the wild in California’s Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge at the end of September 2013. This year’s chick, Cuyamaca, should be released at the Vermilion Cliffs, just north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, sometime next year.
Beginning this October, we will be busy preparing for the next breeding season: cleaning condor nests, conducting health exams on the parents, and servicing and disinfecting our incubators. Condor eggs are usually laid beginning in early January, with chicks hatching after a 56-day incubation period. So, you can expect our next little CondorCam star to make its debut sometime in March!
Ron Webb, Senior Keeper, Condors, San Diego Zoo Safari Park