Proof of Conservation is Soarin’ All Over California

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One of the young condors flying in the enclosure.

The amazing thing about conservation is that it can be both broad and specific. The San Diego Zoo emphasizes that all species should be conserved, from cacti to giraffes, but they are also working hard to protect and conserve specific species like the California condor.

The Zoo has thousands of birds in its collection, and not all of them are endangered. In fact, many of them are not even threatened. But that is not to say that the stable species will not be threatened sometime in the future. There is no way of knowing if the wild populations of an African bird may someday disappear, so the Zoo maintains happy, healthy populations as an insurance policy. The keepers who care for the birds do visual check-ups every day to make sure the animals are doing well and that there are no signs of illness.

Though the Zoo treats all animals with respect and care, there are some highly threatened species that get some extra-special care. The California condor went extinct in the wild in the mid- 1980s when the last 22 wild birds were rounded up and taken to facilities to be protected. The San Diego Zoo and other zoos have made specific efforts to help this critically endangered species. The condor’s numbers have bounced back from 22 to 350, which is an amazing leap; some of these birds are even flying free in their native range. Through genetic analysis, research, and a lot of patience, hundreds of chicks have been hatched from the handful that zoos were given. There are now several release sites where the condors are released after they have been raised by puppets that mimic their condor mothers.

The release sites are safer now than ever before because the lead bullets and buckshot used by hunters that posed a threat to the condors are now illegal in their range. In order to protect the condors from new threats they are not accustomed to, the birds are rehabilitated before they are released in what is called a “soft release.” This technique involves starting young birds in an enclosure at the site where they are to be released with an older bird that teaches them good habits and behaviors. This has been very successful because the released birds can learn the tools that they need before they have to be fully independent.

The proof that conservation works is now visible for many to see: there are now condors flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico. The conservation efforts brought them back from the brink and they now stand a chance to recover to their former glory.

Elise, Conservation Team