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.

# # #


Posted at 4:09 pm October 20, 2008 by Yadira Galindo


One year after the Witch Creek wildfire burned the a condor breeding aviary at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, keepers Debbie Marlow and Sheila Murphy released a female California condor into the rebuilt facility. On Oct. 20, 2007 five California condors and two Andean condors were safely evacuated from the Wild Animal Park 12 hours before the fire burned through sections of the Park leaving the structure in piles of ash and melted metal. On Monday Ojja, the female condor, and her mate, Simerrye, were returned to their home along with an Andean condor pair and their 8-month-old chick.

First Look at Miracle Condor Chick

Posted at 4:03 pm October 8, 2008 by Yadira Galindo

High on the top of a burnt redwood tree sits a nest large enough to hold a California condor. The tree lays in the path of this summer’s devastating wildfire that scorched thousands of acres in Big Sur, California, and in this case condor territory. The fire threatened the three condor nests in the area, each with a chick. The nest in the redwood felt the most heat – literally. Two chicks were accounted for soon after the fire, but for several weeks condor biologists couldn’t get to the nest to see if the chick in the redwood tree had survived. The outlook looked grim when biologists saw the redwood tree from a helicopter, burned nearly to the top. The paths were impassable for quite some time, but when the parent condors returned to the nest it was a good sign. The field biologists were optimistic because the parents would not return to a nest if the chick was dead. Recently, biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service climbed the three and got their first look at the surviving chick – a miracle in the depth of a devastating wildfire.

Lead Claims Another Condor

Posted at 4:34 pm October 1, 2008 by Yadira Galindo

Condor No. 336 died of lead poisoning in September despite the efforts of wildlife biologists to save the 4-year-old bird. The loss of this bird to lead poisoning is tragic as she was just about to reach breeding age. The loss of even one California condor, when the population is just a little more than 330 birds, is devastating to the California Condor Recovery Program.

San Diego Zoo Donates Money to Condor Fire Relief Fund

Posted at 12:07 pm August 28, 2008 by admin

California condors to find new home in Santa Barbara

Posted at 12:15 pm July 31, 2008 by Yadira Galindo

The Santa Barbara Zoo will become only the second United States zoo where the public can view the critically endangered California condor on exhibit. Santa Barbara will join the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park which has been exhibiting the California condor since the year 2000.

Condor Emergency Fund Appeal

Posted at 7:05 am July 16, 2008 by admin

Lightening struck Big Sur on June 21 and ignited several wildfires in the Ventana wilderness that combined to become the Basin Complex Fires. Within 24 hours the wildfire cutoff the only access road to the Ventana Wildlife Society’s Condor Sanctuary where seven young condors, awaiting their release to the wild, and their adult “mentor” condor were being held in a remote field pen. The fire grew so rapidly that the US Coast Guard was called in for an emergency rescue by helicopter. Fortunately, all captive condors and staff scientists were evacuated just before the fire grew stronger and burned through the area.

A Successful end to a Great Breeding Season at the Wild Animal Park

Posted at 10:20 am June 27, 2008 by Bird Keeper

We are happy to say that we have come to the end of a great California condor breeding season here at the Wild Animal Park. Our last two eggs of the season have hatched, and all our chicks are healthy and growing.

Are Condors Blown By the Wind?

Posted at 9:31 am June 4, 2008 by James Sheppard

The animal carcasses that condors rely on for food are widely distributed across the landscape and are relatively unpredictable in their occurrence. Condors must regularly make long-distance foraging flights over large areas to maximize their chances to detect a suitable meal. Because of their large size condors can conserve energy by soaring for long periods without flapping their wings, similar to albatrosses. Condors require strong and consistent thermal winds to achieve the altitudes needed to make these long-distance soaring flights in search of food.

More Entries In Southern California

Posted at 2:25 pm May 21, 2008 by Joseph Brandt

Continuation from More Nests in Southern California.

More nests translate to a greater challenge for the field crew to monitor the nests and the movements of each pair as they take turns foraging for food over the backcountry of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern and Los Angeles counties. Monitoring the nests closely can provide cues in behavior that might indicate there is a problem with the egg or chick.