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Two condor chicks die in California wildfire

This condor chick, #1033, was rescued from its nest in Pinnacles National Park in early September, days before a fire reached its nesting area. Photo by Ventana Wildlife Society

Two young California Condors perished in central California’s Dolan Fire, the Ventana Wildlife Society said today.

They were condors #1022 and #1029.

“My heart is broken because for more than 20 years, I have devoted my life to these birds,” said Joe Burnett, VWS condor program manager. “To lose any is a tragedy but we will rise from the ashes and rebuild the condor’s sanctuary and continue our mission to recover this species.”

As we reported on in late August, the fire destroyed Ventana’s condor sanctuary. The nonprofit is aiming to raise $500,000 to rebuild.

Chick rescued at national park

Three other condor chicks survived the fire, including “Iniko.” Iniko was named by the public while viewers around the world watched the chick and its parents on a live-streaming camera provided by explore.org.

Another chick, #1033, was rescued by a team of biologists from Pinnacles National Park and Ventana Wildlife Society a few days before the fire burned over her nest. See photos of the rescue on Facebook. Biologists took the four-month-old chick, a female, to the Los Angeles Zoo, where she will spend the next year until she is ready to be released back into the wild and reunited with her flock.

“We could see that the fire was burning toward 1033’s nest and offered to help rescue her while there was still a chance,” said Alacia Welch, acting condor program manager at Pinnacles. “To see the fire burn over her nest just a few days later really made me feel glad that we took action when we did.”

Nine free-flying adult condors, including “Kingpin” #167, the father of Iniko, remain missing three weeks after the fire hit the Big Sur sanctuary. The other missing birds are “Survivor” #375, “Electra” #678, “Boreas” #773, “Arthur” #789, “Tonks” #875, one condor from the Pinnacles Flock #448, and two wild-raised birds #9001, and #9003. Condor #448 is the father of perished chick #1022.

Captive-reared birds set for release

“The California Condor Recovery Program has faced setbacks in the past, but we will continue to work with our dedicated partners, the Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles National Park, toward our ultimate goal of recovering the California Condor in the wild,” said Steve Kirkland, condor field coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “While the loss of these wild birds is discouraging, we will release nine more captive-reared birds later this fall, and we are hopeful the remaining wild chicks will strengthen the overall California Condor population.”

As the condor population continues to grow and their range continues to expand, catastrophic fire events like this one are less likely to have a significant impact on their recovery.

Thanks to the continued efforts of the Condor Recovery Program partnership, releases of new condors raised in captivity will occur despite the loss at the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary.  A cohort of nine condors will be transferred to central California this month and seven of these will be released in San Simeon, California and the other two at Pinnacles National Park.  

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“We are so thankful to have such supportive partners to allow the important work we do to continue on while rebuilding as soon as possible,” said Kelly Sorenson, VWS executive director.

This video shows the aftermath of the fire at Big Sur:

 

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