California Condor Recovery Program

Conservation in 

In  1986, the last wild California condor was taken into captivity to join the  twenty-two remaining condors, in an attempt to bolster the population  through a captive breeding program. In  fall 2012, Oakland Zoo joined the California Condor Recovery Program to help  rehabilitate sick or injured condors. A holding facility was constructed  on Zoo grounds and Veterinary staff members were trained in proper procedures  for treating lead poisoned birds. On May 1, 2014, Oakland Zoo received  and treated it's first California condor suffering from lead  posioning. The California condor is one of the rarest bird species in the  world. California condors are opportunistic scavengers that primarily feed on  large mammal        carcasses such as deer, elk, and  marine mammals; however, they also consume smaller carrion such as squirrels  and rabbits. California condors are among the largest flying birds in the  world, with a wingspan measuring up to 9.5 feet. Adult condor males and  females are identical in size and plumage, weigh from 17 to 24 pounds, and  are predominantly black with prominent white underwing feathers. The head and  neck are mostly bare of feathers, and the skin is gray grading into  various shades of red, yellow, and orange. The heads of juveniles (1-3 years)  are grayish-black, and their wing linings are mottled or completely dark.  Adult feathering is attained between age 5 and 6 years of  age.California condors typically mate and choose nest sites during the  winter (November-March). Each pair produces a single egg between late January  and early April. Both parents are involved  in incubation, taking turns either caring for the egg or finding food. The  egg hatches after approximately 56 days of incubation. Both parents also  feed and care for the offspring. Chicks leave the nest (fledge) at 5.5 to 7  months of age, but may not become fully independent until the following  year.

The Conservation Challenge

California  condors were widely distributed in North America in ancient times, from the  West Coast to small populations in Florida and New York. The California Gold Rush had a huge impact on  the condors, because so many settlers came to the West and upended the  ecology of the land. By the late 1930s, California condors were only found in  California, confined to a small area just north of Los Angeles. Lack of  reproduction, inadequate food supply, contaminants, habitat loss, human disturbance,  and direct persecution by humans were thought to be contributing to the  condor population decline. Following the  controversial capture of the last twenty-two condors in 1986, California  condors were thus absent from the wild until 1992 when the first eight captive-reared birds  were released in Southern California. The reintroduction of birds continued  in Arizona in 1996, Central California in    1997, and Northern Baja  California, Mexico, in 2002. There are currently more than 400 condors in the  world, with more than 200 free-flying wild birds distributed among five  release sites. While the recovery  effort has been extremely successful, the wild condor population still  requires extensive management. There are many threats to the survival of the species,  including lead poisoning, micro-trash ingestion, trauma, DDE, and habitat  loss; however, lead toxicosis is thought to be the overwhelming reason  that the California condor population remains unable to sustain itself. The  birds appear to become poisoned from lead fragments remaining in  carcasses of animals that were shot using lead ammunition. Currently, all  wild California condors are trapped at least once a year to be tested and  treated (if necessary) for lead poisoning. In 2013 alone, more than 70  individual birds were treated for lead toxicosis, and several mortalities were  confirmed to be due to lead poisoning.

Conservation Approach

Oakland Zoo is proud to  be involved in the conservation of California condors. In 2013, the Zoo  became the newest member of the California Condor Recovery Program, a  multi-organizational group that is responsible for the management California  condors. Amongst the Recovery Program partners, the Zoo is working closely with the  US Fish and Wildlife Service, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ventana  Wildlife Society, Pinnacles National Park, and the Los Angeles  Zoo. The California condor is an icon of the West, and serves a unique  position in the ecosystem. Oakland Zoo is also uniquely positioned in  California to assist with the condor population as it expands  northward.

Oakland Zoo Takes Action

Veterinary Care

Oakland Zoo's Veterinary staff is trained to provide medical  care, including lead chelation therapy, to wild condors that are deemed ill  or injured by field biologists. Condors are  treated at both the Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital and the Steve and Jackie  Kane Recovery Center. In addition to medical care of condors at the zoo, the Veterinary staff is actively involved with biologists in the field and at  major universities, collaborating on projects to better define the threats to  condors and find solutions to those threats. Several members of the Animal  Care, Conservation, and Research Department staff are also trained in condor  husbandry and are an integral part of the team caring for California condors  in rehabilitation at the Zoo.

Education  Outreach

Many opportunities are  planned to promote public awareness of California condors. Field biology  workshops for middle and high school students will teach students to use GPS  data from wild condors to analyze conservation problems. Condor Camp will  allow students to spend time outdoors with condor biologists. The  Zoo's Biodiversity Center classroom features a condor biofacts exhibit.  Additionally, a mobile condor biofacts station is used for presentations both  on Zoo grounds and in remote classroom.


Oakland Zoo has raised significant funds for the Ventana Wildlife  Society through Quarters for Conservation, a corporate partnership with Fedex  and special events. We also provide monthly  supplemental food for wild condors in the Big Sur area managed by the Ventana  Wildlife Society.


 Oakland Zoo's marketing department has worked closely with FedEx  and Camzone to place the first cameras in the field to observe wild condors.  The Condor Cams allow both field biologists  and the public to observe condors in their natural habitat and have been  invaluable tools to further condor research. Several television and radio  pieces featuring Zoo and Condor Recovery Program partners have also been  coordinated by the marketing department, highlighting the plight of the condor. To see  California condors in the wild or rehabilitating at the Zoo, people can go to  our website's live-cams page.

You Can Take Action Too

Use non-lead ammunition for hunting.

There are many proven alternatives to lead ammunition. If you  hunt, please consider these less toxic alternatives.

Tell others about non-lead  ammunition. 

Get the word out! Making the switch to non-lead promotes cleaner,  healthier ecosystems.

Don't litter. 

California condors have been known to ingest small trash items and  feed them to their chicks. This microtrash can cause severe illness in the  chicks.

Go condor spotting! 

Travel down the Big Sur  Coast or inland to Pinnacles National Park to see these spectacular birds in  flight. Then, tell others about your experience!


Ventana Wildlife Society

Hunting  with Non-Lead

National Park Service, Lead Bullet Risks for  Humans and Wildlife

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife  (Condors)