The Ventana Wildlife Society Research and Education Center was established in Big Sur's Andrew Molera State Park in January 1992. Inspired by the desire to reach out to the public, and with support from the California Department of Parks and Recreation, VWS expanded its programs to include bird research at the Big Sur Ornithology Lab, environmental education, and habitat restoration. Today, their current program areas include Species Recovery focusing on California Condor reintroduction, Conservation Ecology, Conservation Education, and Habitat Restoration.
The Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) celebrated 30 years as a community-based private non-profit on May 10, 2007. VWS first began by rehabilitating and releasing wildlife at a 240-acre remote field site in the Ventana Wilderness. After 5 years, VWS began reintroducing prairie and peregrine falcons from this same location. Then, in 1986, a bald eagle restoration project was initiated to re-establish the local population of eagles that had been absent for 60 years. VWS successfully restored this population in only 10 years.
By the 1980s, the California condor population was in crisis, and extinction in the wild seemed imminent. The dramatic decline of condors in the 20th century has been attributed to shooting, poisoning, electric power lines, egg collecting, and habitat loss. In 1987, the last wild California condor was taken into captivity to join the 26 remaining condors in an attempt to bolster the population through a captive breeding program. Through the effort of California zoos and Ventana Wildlife Society, 23 condors have returned to the wild in central California. Currently, over 160 have been released in California and Arizona.
Lead Poisoning: Condors are scavengers that feed exclusively on carcasses, and they can be poisoned by contaminants in those carcasses. Lead poisoning, as a result of lead bullet fragments in game carcasses or waste piles, remains foremost among threats, despite the recent ban on lead bullets in the condor's range. Lead poisoning leads to illness, starvation and death if not treated.
Pesticides: Condors are also becoming contaminated by pesticides that have gathered in the ocean. Marine mammals consume these chemicals, and when condors consume those dead marine mammals, they lay thin-shelled eggs that cannot hatch properly.
Treatment for lead poisoned birds: VWS humanely captures and treats condors suffering from high blood levels of lead every spring and fall. This is vital to their survival. Prompt treatment has saved the lives of several birds in the flock. They monitor nests to ensure the greatest protection possible from potential threats to productivity.
Captive Breeding: VWS works with the Los Angeles Zoo to breed and release condors.
Egg Replacement: Thin shelled eggs are collected and replaced by viable eggs that were laid by the captive condors. The viable eggs are hatched and the chicks are raised by the non-suspecting wild parents.
Outreach and Education: VWS conducts outreach activities, like Condor Camp, in order for the public to understand the amazing bird that shares our habitat. They also educate hunters about alternatives to lead ammunition. Joining them on a condor tour in Big Sur is another way the public can learn about condors.
Monitoring and Research: To promptly detect health problems, biologists account for each condor on a near-daily basis using radio tracking. Nests are also monitored to ensure the greatest protection possible from any threat to productivity. The condors are studied for their habitats, biology, land use, feeding and breeding behavior in order to better conserve them.
The Oakland Zoo has fully embraced the efforts of Ventana Wildlife Society and their work with condors. We support the project through: