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The first time you feel the breeze left in the wake of a California Condor, you may mistake the animal experience for a small aircraft flying overhead. The magnificent wingspan of this bird is quite spectacular and unlike no other flying creature you will encounter. To also see a California Condor soar over the cliffs of Big Sur, California is truly to experience the grandeur of the wild world. However, this beautiful bird is nearly extinct and would not be in existence today, if it was not for human intervention. In 1986, the last wild California Condor was taken into captivity, amounting to a mire twenty-seven remaining California Condors on our planet. DDT ingestion almost brought an end to this incredible bird. Luckily, an alliance of organizations and zoos came together to conserve, breed, and release these giants into the wild, bringing a halt to their extinction and a fight to rebuild their population. We are now more than thirty years into the battle to save this bird species and they still need our help to survive. Today, our California Condor numbers have grown, but they still face deadly threats. Oakland Zoo is proud to be part of the California Condor Recovery Program - helping to rehabilitate sick and injured Condors at our world renowned Veterinary Medical Center. The zoo’s ongoing commitment helps ensure condors never come close to extinction again.
Though the numbers tell a success story for California Condor conservation, the species continues to be classified as critically endangered by the IUCN and faces ongoing threats to its survival.
As opportunistic scavengers, the biggest threat to condors is poisoning from lead shot. Lead bullets fragment into hundreds of pieces when they hit a target; therefore, when condors feed on the carcasses of animals, the birds ingest the poisonous metal. The fragments and the lead itself cause damage and severe illness or death to condors.
Tiny bits of trash, like broken glass, bottle caps or even the corners of a wrapper look like food for a young chick. When condor parents bring these colorful bits to the nest for feeding, the microtrash can get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract of young condors and cause impaction, preventing the birds from digesting food. The devastating result is starvation and death.
Habitat loss and obstruction pose a threat to most animals, including condors. Condors need adequate nesting sites, roosting sites and foraging habitat with adequate food for their basic survival. Human encroachment through land development and disturbance can adversely affect condor behavior, as well as reduce the number of mammals on the landscape, resulting in less food sources for condors. Collisions with powerlines and electrocution from perching on powerlines or poles also pose a threat.
Climate change increases the risk of hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires. In California, these fires have killed condors, ruined habitat, and destroyed condor recovery centers.
Oakland Zoo is proud to be involved in the conservation of California Condors. In 2013, the Zoo became a member of the California Condor Recovery Program - a multi-organizational group responsible for the management of California Condors. Amongst the Recovery Program partners, the Zoo is working closely with the U.S. 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 our ecosystem. Oakland Zoo is also uniquely positioned in California to assist with the condor population as it expands northward.
A holding facility was constructed on Oakland Zoo’s property (not in view of the public) to ensure a quiet space that offers critical treatment for sick or injured condors. This center provides a safe environment for the rare bird to receive essential veterinary treatments and animal care while ensuring each condor we care for stays wild. On May 1, 2014, Oakland Zoo received and treated its first California condor suffering from lead poisoning. Since then, we have treated dozens of condors and have assisted in numerous condor releases where the birds return to their natural habitats.
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. In addition to medical care of condors at the zoo, the veterinary staff are actively involved with biologists in the field and at major universities, collaborating on projects to better define the threats to condors and find solutions. Several members of the Animal Care, Conservation, and Research Department staff are also trained in condor husbandry and play an integral part of in caring for California Condors rehabilitating at the zoo.
Oakland Zoo has offered Field Biology workshops for middle and high school students using GPS data from wild condors to analyze conservation problems. Additionally, the Zoo offers teens the opportunity to attend Condor Camp - a program allowing students to spend time outdoors with condor biologists. Public awareness campaigns sponsored by Oakland Zoo have helped spread knowledge about ammunition choices and the dangers of micro-trash have also helped protect the condor.
Oakland Zoo supports the lifesaving work of Ventana Wildlife Society through grants and by providing monthly supplemental food for wild condors in Big Sur, California. Oakland Zoo worked with FedEx to place the first cameras in the field, allowing field biologists and the public to observe condors in their natural habitat; the cameras have been invaluable tools to further condor research. The zoo also supports the work being done at Pinnacles National Park to conserve California Condors in that region.
CHOOSE copper ammunition for hunting. Making the switch to non-lead bullets promotes cleaner, healthier, ecosystems for scavenger animals.
PICK-UP MICROTRASH and be mindful of your litter when you hike. California Condors ingest small trash items and feed them to their chicks. This micro-trash can cause severe illness or death to the chicks.
GO CONDOR SPOTTING and 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. Believe it or not, by spreading the word about these majestic animals, you are helping to keep them alive.