Rebuilding for California Condors

July 23, 2008

They may not have been rearing the proverbial phoenix, but the staff at the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) does face the task of rebuilding out of ashes. They lost their Big Sur California condor facility on June 23, 2008, when wildfires started by lightning devoured the surrounding area. While the eight condors at the facility were plucked off a smoky ridgeline in a dramatic Coast Guard helicopter evacuation, many wild condors were left to fend for themselves, and a wild-born chick and a previously-released three-year-old are still unaccounted for.

Before the fire struck, the condor facility received hatched chicks from regional zoos. The chicks were reared with an adult “mentor” condor and then released into the wild. If necessary, released birds could be recaptured and rehabilitated on-site. Because the fires destroyed pens for rearing, release, and rehabilitation, “all three capabilities are lost,” says VWS executive director Kelly Sorenson. As the lynchpin of a tiny network of rearing and release facilities for California condors, the loss of the VWS facility is a major blow to efforts to protect this endangered species.

Plans for the condors reared at the Big Sur facility have already been delayed. After their dramatic rescue, the chicks were relocated to Pinnacles National Monument, where another California condor facility operates. “We’re not going to release those chicks,” says Sorenson. Their removal from Big Sur and the destruction of their habitat impedes such plans for now and jeopardizes their target population of 55 wild condors in Central California by 2010. “Rebuilding could take as long as six months,” says Sorenson, “this could easily become a diversion of our resources and our time. What we prefer to do is to rebuild and continue our normal operations. Even six months in the fight to protect endangered species can be critical.”

In the face of this challenge, the society is soliciting public support to rebuild. Fire damage to pens, computers, and other equipment reached at least $10,000, but VWS has set a goal of $100,000 to fund the hiring of additional field staff. And support has been flowing in: Already, VWS has raised nearly $50,000 in private donations. “People have been eager to help,” says Sorenson. “They’ve been behind us all the way.”

More information about VWS programs, or to donate to the Condor Emergency Fund, go to www.ventanaws.org.

Also, check out our video on VWS here.


About the Author

Laura Hautala is a freelance reporter based in Oakland.