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13 condors missing after wildfire destroys Big Sur Sanctuary

condors missing
The Dolan Fire consumes the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary in Los Padres National Forest on August 21. The photo is a still from a remote video camera. Image courtesy Ventana Wildlife Society

STORY UPDATED ON TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

Nine adult and four nestling California Condors remain missing more than a week after a wildfire destroyed the Ventana Wildlife Society’s 80-acre Big Sur Condor Sanctuary near the Central California coast.

Since 1997, condors that have been raised by zoos and nonprofits have been released into the wild from the sanctuary. No condors or people were at the facility at the time of the fire.

One adult male bird, 21-year-old “Shadow” #209, had been missing as well. Biologists at Pinnacles National Park, about 35 miles northwest of the sanctuary, found him on Saturday, August 28. A timeline of events of the fire and its impact on condors and the sanctuary is here.

The fire, known as the Dolan Fire, began on August 18 in the Los Padres National Forest one mile south of the sanctuary and has grown to 29,550 acres. It is currently 25 percent contained.

Condor #204, known as Amigo, flies along the coast on August 25. It and other condors left a beach showing signs that they’d recently dined on a carcass. Photo by Tim Huntington/Ventana Wildlife Society

The Ventana Wildlife Society offered these details on the missing birds:

The missing chicks include “Iniko” #1031, whose parents are “Kingpin” #167 and “Redwood Queen” #190. Iniko, hatched on April 25, was last seen alive in its nest on the Live Condor Cam, just before the transmission died due to the fire. The other chicks are #1022 whose parents are from the Pinnacles flock (#448 and #543), chick #1029 whose parents are McWay #567 and Loner #311, and chick #1030 whose parents are Ferdinand #652 and #550 (PNP). 

On Tuesday, September 1, Ventana Wildlife reported that in the last few days, GPS readings show that adult condor #550 “has been going back to her nest, presumably to feed her chick.” Another adult bird in the burn area “was seen feeding on a sea lion and filling up her crop so this is encouraging news!”

The nine missing free-flying condors are “Kingpin” #167, “Survivor” #375, “Electra” #678, “Boreas” #773, “Arthur” #789, “Tonks” #875, and one condor from the Pinnacles Flock #448, and two wild-raised birds, #9001, and #9003.

All of the missing adults were carrying radio transmitters and some also had GPS trackers. Ventana reported on Tuesday that aerial surveys by Ecoscan Resource Data of Watsonville, California, did not detect signals of any of the missing birds. “We are very worried because we know the fire burned through the Sanctuary in the dark of night when they would not have been able to evade the fire,” Ventana wrote in its newsletter. “The combined ages of the thirteen missing condors is 73 years.”

A statement from Ventana Wildlife added: “While the Condor’s Big Sur Sanctuary was destroyed in the Dolan Fire, we remain hopeful about the missing condors. Over the last 20 years in central California, six condor chick nests were subjected to wildfire. Five chicks survived the experience.”

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The society plans to rebuild the sanctuary and is looking for $500,000 in donations for the effort. It’s also currently hosting an online auction to raise funds. The auction closes at 8 pm Pacific time on Saturday, September 5.

 

California Condor chick #1000 fledged in October 2019

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