There were strange noises in the San Diego Zoo’s bird breeding center on March 30, 1983: tape recordings of vulture sounds and the repeated tapping on a large white egg. Keepers were assisting at the first zoo hatching of a rare and precious California condor chick.
Keeper Cyndi Kuehler gently lifted the shell and the chick’s head emerged. To maintain the quiet, no one cheered, but everyone was smiling from ear to ear. Sisquoc was the first to hatch from four eggs taken from the wild, making the months spent searching for condor eggs in cliff nests worth it.
It was a first step to save a species that was just 22 birds away from extinction.
We have hatched over 180 California condor chicks at the Safari Park since 1985, when there were only 22 birds left. Our collaborative work has led to over 200 California condors flying free and another 200 birds in breeding facilities.
But the condors need to be monitored for health issues like West Nile Virus and avian influenza; vaccinations are given to the birds when possible. Another constant threat is lead poisoning from eating carcasses contaminated by lead bullets. If the birds show signs of toxicity, they are brought to the animal hospital for care, and returned to the wild when healthy again.
We launched a Condor Cam in 2012 so people around the world can watch condor parents raise their chick from wobbly hatchling to determined fledgling. Combined with birds raised in breeding centers, over 50 condors join the species each year. Even now, every hatchling is critical to the survival of this species.