The California Condor Recovery Program reached a new milestone with the hatching of a condor chick in the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir National Park in Baja California, Mexico. San Diego Zoo field biologists rappelled 330 feet down a rocky cliff on Tuesday to vaccinate the chick against West Nile Virus.
Mike Wallace, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo‘s Institute for Conservation Research wildlife scientist and California Condor Recovery Program team leader, said the chick is approximately 45 days old.
“Our efforts to save this species are long and often arduous,” said Wallace. “Still, nothing is more rewarding than the arrival of a chick from reintroduced birds breeding in the wild. The 45-day-old chick is the most successful effort by our growing population in Baja California so far.”
The chick is only the second California condor to hatch in Mexico since the San Diego Zoo reintroduced this critically endangered species to the area in 2002. A different condor breeding pair hatched the first chick in 2007, but the chick disappeared from the nest one month later and was never found.
“This is an example of collaboration between Mexico and the United States to conserve biological diversity along the border region between our two countries,” said Eduardo Peters, Ph.D., Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Ecología director general of research of ecology and conservation of ecosystems. “The Instituto Nacional de Ecología has been persistent in continuing the project in Mexico by coordinating the Mexican institutions participating in this binational effort. The goal is to create a self-sustaining California condor population and thus repopulating their historic range.”
Prior to the 2002 reintroduction of this species, the last documented wild California condor in Mexico was spotted in the late 1930s. The California Condor
Recovery Program joined forces with the Mexican government to reintroduce this species to its native habitat in the pristine mountain range.
Condors reach breeding age at 5 years old. The condors in Baja California are just reaching maturity. Wallace believes additional pairs may begin to breed and lay eggs in 2010. An egg hatches after 57 days of incubation. The emerging chick is born with light gray feathers and a pink bald head. Its feathers begin to darken as it ages and by 6 months old when it takes its first flight, it is fully grown with black and white feathers and a black head. The chick remains under the watchful eye of its parents for another two years. When it reaches maturity the birds head turns pink once again.
The California Condor Recovery Program is implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, zoos in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as U.S. and Mexican government agencies such as the Instituto Nacional de Ecología and non-governmental organizations including WiLDCOAST. The world population of California condors is now approximately 350 birds, more than half of which are flying free in the skies above California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. Although listed by the federal government as an endangered species in 1967, the California condor population continued to decline reaching a critical low of less than two dozen birds and in 1982 the condor breeding program was successfully established at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo. Today, two additional breeding centers are assisting with the recovery of the species at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey and the Oregon Zoo.
The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The organization focuses on conservation and research work around the globe, educates millions of individuals a year about wildlife and maintains accredited horticultural, animal, library and photo collections. The Zoo also manages the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which includes a 900-acre native species reserve, and the San Diego Zoos Institute for Conservation Research™. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
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