Archive for May, 2009

Gunshot & Lead-Poisoned California Condor Recovers and Returns to Wild

Posted at 1:57 pm May 6, 2009 by admin

Big Sur, California - Biologists at the Ventana Wildlife Society released condor No. 375 on Friday, May 1 from its condor sanctuary in Big Sur, California. This release marks the return of one of two condors that were gunshot and lead-poisoned this past March.

“We are extremely pleased to see condor No. 375 flying free in Big Sur once again because that’s where she belongs,” said Joe Burnett, Ventana Wildlife Society senior wildlife biologist.

Condor 375 was monitored over the weekend and she has been doing well since her release.  The 4-year old juvenile female, was trapped by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists in Big Sur on March 26 for a routine blood-lead test. Biologists soon learned she had a very high lead value and was suffering from lead poisoning.

The ailing condor was transferred to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey to undergo a medical exam by veterinarian, Amy Wells, DVM.   X-rays taken by Wells revealed three shotgun pellets embedded in her tissue, two in the wing and one in the thigh.  This was an unexpected discovery which was unrelated to condor 375’s lead poisoning condition.

Condor 375 was given medicine to counteract the lead poisoning and then immediately transferred from Monterey to the Los Angeles Zoo for recovery. During her treatment it was determined that the gunshot wounds would not cause her any long-term physical impairment and her lead levels were brought down successfully after three weeks on a vigorous treatment schedule of once daily injections that removed lead from her bloodstream.

Condor No. 286, the other gunshot and lead-poisoned condor, is still recovering at the Los Angeles Zoo from his severe exposure to lead and his condition is still very much “critical.”   Condor 286, an adult male, was captured in early March by biologists with Ventana Wildlife Society when it was determined that he was suffering from a severe case of lead-poisoning.  He was transferred to undergo treatment at the Zoo’s animal hospital.  When radio-graphed by veterinary staff they discovered 15 shotgun pellets lodged in his wing and body, also unrelated to the lead-poisoning condition.

“Luckily, the pellets didn’t cause any long-term physical impairment to condor 286, but his battle with lead poisoning is far from over,” said Burnett. “We are still unsure whether he will ever return to the wild and reunite with his mate (condor No. 303), as his survival is in the balance.”

As a result of these two condor shootings, a $40,000 reward was assembled thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States and Ventana Wildlife Society donors.

“We don’t yet know what leads, if any, have been generated from this reward so far but we certainly hope that the person or persons responsible are caught and punished accordingly,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.

The endangered California condor is the largest land bird in North America, weighing as much as 25 pounds and possessing a nine and half foot wingspan. California condors do not kill their food; they are obligate scavengers, eating carcasses they find during long soaring flights.  Condor’s are nature’s recyclers and play a very important role in keeping the environment free of diseased animal carrion.

Condors are often poisoned when they ingest lead bullet fragments left behind in gunshot carcasses and gut piles in the field.  In July 2008, California changed hunting regulations to require hunters in the condor’s range to use only non-lead ammunition.  Information on the new regulations can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game’s Web site at:

Biologists have been working for decades to reestablish California condors to the wild. From a population low of just 22 condors in 1982, there are now 322 of these critically endangered birds. About half are flying free in the wilds of California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja Mexico. Although the population has grown, the species remains endangered primarily due to preventable threats. Direct shooting of condors is one such threat.

Ventana Wildlife Society is the only non-profit organization releasing and monitoring California condors in California.  Ventana Wildlife Society began condor releases in Big Sur in 1997 and then initiated a second release site in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument in collaboration with the National Parks Service.   Currently, Ventana Wildlife Society and the National Parks Service monitor a flock of 48 wild condors in Central California, more than half the population for California, which is currently 86 birds.

California Trails Opens at Santa Barbara Zoo

Posted at 1:41 pm May 6, 2009 by admin

By Alan Varsik, Assistant Zoo Director

I’ve waited for this day for a long time: I am elated to report that California condors are now on view at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

California Trails is the largest project in the Zoo’s nearly 50-year history. We reconfigured an entire section of the Zoo to feature endangered or threatened species from right here in our own backyard including four juvenile condors.

block-grantham-varsik-at-dedication-copy.jpgOn Wednesday, Aprill 22, our partners and collaborators gathered to cut the ribbon and formally open the exhibit. We had members of the California Condor Recovery Program, including the coordinator, Jesse Grantham, representatives from the San Ynez Tribe of the Mission Indians (Chumash), plus state, county and city officials. Several volunteers from our nest monitoring program with the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service were there. Friends of the California Condor Flying Free attended in their blue tee-shirts. Longtime supporters of both the Zoo and of the condor program talked about what a great day it was.

cutting-the-ribbon-copy.jpgYou couldn’t miss the condors: all four were sitting on a central perch in the exhibit, basking in the sunshine, often extending their wings.

“Back in the early days of the recovery, in the 1980s, if you had told me we would be here today opening this exhibit – I wouldn’t have believed it!” said Jesse in his remarks to the crowd. “The trajectory here is an upward curve. We’re not going to lose the condor.”

I recalled how I saw condors in the wild while I was a student at Cal Poly – and how that experience, seeing condors in person, changed my life. I think that experience  helped direct the course of my life.

Now, more than ever, it is important for young people to make that connection. That is one of the reasons we built California Trails. We want our community and visitors to  see the magnificent birds, brought back from the brink of extinction, and discover that they too can make a difference in the natural world. That they are the stewards of the future.

On Saturday, I came to the public opening to see how the public reacted to the exhibits. We have “Passport” stations where kids learn about the birds (and the other animals of California Trails) and learn about them and their challenges in the wild. The kids were fascinated by the collection of microtrash we have on display, which was collected by zoo staff on a clean-up day in the Sespe. I hope they’ll make the connection between not littering and helping condors.

It’s been great observing guests who see the birds they’ve heard about for so long, for the first time. Many people simply stop in their tracks when first seeing the birds.  It seems as if the condors significantly capture the attention of our guests for unusual amounts of time. Last Friday I noticed one gentleman first thing in morning at the exhibit. He was still there at the end of the day. I mentioned to him that I saw him in the morning and he explained that he couldn’t stop watching the birds. It’s been said that condors are like glue. That once you experience them, they stay with you. I hope that many of our guests have that experience.

As for the condors themselves, I couldn’t be happier with how comfortable they appear in their new home. They take advantage of all the various activities and perching opportunities. They’ve been digging and wading into the water. They have even done some landscaping, picking the flowers.

The privilege of sharing the story of California condor with our zoo guests is unparalleled. It signifies the essence of the role of the modern zoo, to connect, and to inspire.

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