Posted at 10:18 am June 27, 2008 by Ron Webb

Nikoy (pronounced “NEE-koy”) lives in the California condor exhibit at Condor Ridge at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. He is housed with two adult condors, male Meymey and female Sespe (see their blog entries from March 25, 2008 and May 23, 2008). He has not always lived here at the Park. He hatched here in 2004, and was raised as a release candidate, which means he had minimal human contact in order to maximize his chances for success after being released to the wild. He was sent to the release site at Sierra de San Pedro de Martir National Park in Baja California, Mexico when he was 14 months old. After a year socializing with his cohort and his field mentor, Xewe (see her blog entry from January 23, 2008), he was set free in 2006.

Sometimes living free can be difficult for young condors. Nikoy was very subordinate in the condor population in Mexico. The older, more experienced birds often displaced him from perches and feeding sites. The field biologists noticed that he started to feed on the ground at night to possibly avoid the older condors. They were worried for his safety because mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes feed at night. Also, there was a possibility that, if he didn’t get eaten, he may be a poor role model for younger birds, showing them that eating at night is an acceptable activity. So, for his and the population’s benefit, Nikoy was placed back into the socialization pen with the mentor. Sometimes a bird with social issues can “outgrow” them with extra time with the mentor or a smaller group of birds. This, unfortunately, didn’t help Nikoy and it was decided to send him back to the U.S.

Before he could be shipped back to the Wild Animal Park, he and ten other condors in Baja tested positive for lead poisoning. No birds were showing any symptoms yet, but the field biologists and veterinarians caught the lead exposure early through blood tests. The eleven condors were shipped to the Wild Animal Park to undergo chelation treatment (a medical procedure to remove the lead from the bloodstream) in November 2007. After treatment, most of the birds were sent back to the release site, but Nikoy stayed behind. In addition to the lead exposure, Nikoy also had a piece of metal lodged in his digestive tract. We found out that the metal was not lead and that he eventually expelled it on his own. Thanks to the quick work of the field crew in Mexico and the veterinary staff at the Wild Animal Park, Nikoy doesn’t seem to be suffering any long-term effects of his lead exposure!

He was known as Condor 323 when he was in the wild, but we decided to give him the in-house name of Nikoy. His name is a Chumash word that means, “to return,” since he came back to the place at which he hatched. He has been on exhibit in Condor Ridge since Jan 2008. He is the only immature condor on exhibit – his head is still colored mostly black, with pink spots; his head will be fully pink when he’s about six years old. Nikoy also still wears his wing tags that he wore in the wild – Blue 23 – on each wing. In time, he will join the captive breeding population at the Park or one of the other breeding facilities (Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo, or the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho) and his kids will hopefully fly free and STAY in the wild.

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