On March 25, 2014 young California condor #646 began her journey into the wild. This release was extra special, because, for the first time, a live condor reintroduction was visible to the world on “Condor Cam.” Many thanks to FedEx and Camzone, who helped Oakland Zoo install the camera in such a remote location! Condor #646 joins more than 200 other wild condors that are now able to fly free in the Western skies.
While #646’s journey will certainly be miraculous, it will not be without potential perils. She has already met and been accepted by her flock, and soon thereafter survived adverse rainy and cold weather conditions. Fortunately, she has yet to meet her most dangerous adversary: lead. Despite a ban on lead ammunition within the range of the California condor that took effect in 2008, lead has continued to poison and kill numerous California condors each year.
This year, however, Oakland Zoo Veterinary and Animal Care staff members are ready to help the condors in their struggle with lead toxicosis. Since 2012, we have worked hard to obtain the necessary permits to house condors, and built and equipped the Steve and Jackie Kane Condor Recovery Center. Additionally, multiple trips both into the field and to the Los Angeles Zoo to train with biologists and condor keepers have given us the skills necessary to provide state-of-the-art care to sick and injured condors.
Our location in Northern California makes us ideally positioned to treat birds from the Big Sur area of the coast, and the inland area of Pinnacles National Park. This geographical position is likely to be critical to the condors’ survival. Before 2014, every sick condor was transported in a modified dog kennel to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment – an approximately 6 hour drive. Now, driving time (and thus time to beginning treatment) will be reduced to 2-3 hours.
When a condor arrives at the Zoo, it undergoes a specific diagnostic and treatment program. An x-ray of each bird is taken to determine if large lead fragments are present and document the locations of the fragments. Every day for 5 days, each condor receives an injection of a chelating agent that binds the lead and carries it out of the bird’s bloodstream. Additionally, the birds are given subcutaneous fluids for supportive care and fed regularly for optimum nutrition. We handle each bird for less than 20 minutes a day in order to minimize stress. After 5 days, a blood sample is drawn to determine the bird’s blood lead level. The birds undergo 5 day rounds of treatment until the blood lead level is below the target value; at that time they are released back into the wild!
We are extremely proud and excited to be part of such an important conservation effort. Make sure to check out the Zoo’s website often – you may see some of the condors in our treatment facility!
And come to our next Conservation Speaker series event, all about saving the California Condor. Learn how the joint efforts of U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Ventana Wildlife Society, Pinnacles National Park, Oakland Zoo, and other zoos and environmental organizations in the Western U.S. are saving the 218 California condors now soaring in the wild.