California Living Museum adds two California condors boasting massive 9.5′ wingspans to its animal collection
The California Living Museum introduced its newest residents — two male California condors — at an event held at the zoo on Friday, Nov. 18. The birds were transferred to CALM from the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in Clackamas, Ore., in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California Condor Recovery Program.
The endangered California condor is the largest land bird in North America, boasting a magnificent wingspan of 9.5 feet. Soaring on thermal air currents, California condors can reach speeds of 55 mph and altitudes of up to 15,000 ft. They can travel more than 150 miles per day in search of dead animals to scavenge. Condors locate carcasses with their keen eyesight (not by smell) by observing other scavengers assembled at a carcass and usually feed in groups.
The California condor population steadily declined during the 20th century. By 1982 there were only 22 known to exist in the wild. The last of the free-flying condors were taken into captivity in 1987 in order to save the species from extinction. There were no California condors in the wild between 1988 and 1991. The California Condor Recovery Program started re-introducing captive-bred condors back into the wild in 1992. Releases continue to be conducted annually. Today, there are 240 free-flying birds in California, Arizona, Utah, Baja California, and Mexico with another 210 in captivity.
Lead poisoning is the primary impediment to the recovery of the California condor, and is likely one of the main factors that drove the species toward extinction. When animals are shot with lead bullets those bullets break into numerous small fragments. This poses a threat when condors consume these animals, or their gut piles. Once ingested, the lead is absorbed into the bloodstream, poisoning the bird. About 60 percent of wild condors are lead poisoned and about 20 percent tested per year have high enough blood-lead levels they require clinical treatment.
In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that will require the use of non-lead ammunition to be used when taking any wildlife with a firearm in California by 2019.
“The California condor was the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and their losses are directly due to human impact,” noted CALM’s animal curator Donald Richardson. “We are so fortunate to be selected by the Condor Recovery Program to exhibit these magnificent birds and to be part of bringing the message of their conservation needs and their recovery to Kern County.”