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View California Condors Live on Ventana Wildlife Society’s ‘Condor Cam’

The Ventana Wildlife Society’s work is to save endangered species such as this majestic California condor in flight over the Big Sur coastline. They are the largest bird in North America, considered endangered by the federal government. As of Dec. 31, 2020, there were only 504 condors living, of which 329 were in the wild and 175 were in captivity. Photo by Tim Huntington.

 

By Laurie Hanson • March 19, 2021

Ventana Wildlife Society is a nonprofit based out of Monterey that rescues condors; before that they successfully reintroduced bald eagles into the wild in Central California. It has been since 1992 that Ventana Wildlife Society has helped protect and repopulate California Condors, according to Kelly Sorenson, who has been executive director since 2003, after starting with the organization in 1991.

After a wildfire all but destroyed their rescue sanctuary months ago, the Ventana Wildlife Society rose out of  the ashes to continue saving the endangered California condor.

“We own an 80-acre parcel of land in the Ventana Wilderness where we reintroduce California condors to the wild,” Sorenson said. “The Dolan Fire last August destroyed our entire infrastructure (i.e., roads and buildings) essential to our work, so we are rebuilding.”

Though condors might not seem important to some because they are “obligate scavengers that feed mainly on dead mammals,” eating their carrion or dead flesh, Sorenson sees them in a vital and broader light.

“Their importance extends beyond the ecological niche they fill because people all over the world care for these birds and the ideal of restoring nature,” he explained.

One condor, “Iniko,” whose name means “born in troubled times,” was just a fledgling when the Dolan Wildfire raced through the Big Sur facility last August. She and her mother, “Redwood Queen,” survived but her father, “Kingpin” perished in the fire.

Iniko’s mother struggled to feed and protect her but could not be in two places at once. A few months later, another condor named “Ninja” moved into the territory, harassed Iniko and forced her to leave the nest, but she fortunately was prepared to depart. A few days after Ninja occupied her father’s territory, Iniko had a possible leg injury noticed by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists. They decided to rescue her, and she was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo. If all goes well, she will be released into the wild sometime this year.

Endagered
They are the largest bird in North America, considered endangered by the federal government in 1967, and in California in 1971. At the time in 1971, only few dozen remained in the wild, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“California Condors are still critically endangered, and as of Dec. 31, 2020, there were only 504 condors living, of which 329 were in the wild and 175 were in captivity,” Sorenson said. “Condors are being reintroduced to several areas where they are native, including Central and Southern California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico.”

“When condors are back to being self-sustaining, meaning when their level of mortality is reduced, they will once again fly free without the need for us,” he added.

For the time being, the Ventana Wildlife Society stands by. With one innovative way, by starting a free non-lead ammunition program, they hope to increase the condor population. Half of all known condor deaths are caused by lead poisoning, with spent lead from ammunition being the biggest source, according to Sorenson.

“As a result, we started the free non-lead ammunition program, and have given out more than $250,000 and 10,000 boxes of high-performing copper ammunition as way to encourage a switch,” he said. “This is a top priority.”

Sorenson explained that when a substantial number of hunters and ranchers switch to copper munitions in regions condors inhabit, the species will breed more in the wild and grow in numbers to be self-sustaining, no longer in need of human interventions.

“It is not the fault or problem of hunters or ranchers [though], but rather that they are a part of the solution,” he said.

For the present, Ventana Wildlife Society continues to conduct periodic releases of young birds to greater support their populations’ growth. They currently are assisting the Native American Yurok Tribe and the National Park Service to establish a condor release site at Redwood National Park on the coast near the California-Oregon border. It is anticipated to expand condors into Northern California and possibly beyond, according to their website.

Since first releasing condors in 1997 from their sanctuary along the Central California coast in Big Sur, they created another release site at Pinnacles National Park in Central California. Recently, they also began releasing near San Simeon. Two adult condors recently established their territory in the area and are the first to nest in San Luis Obispo County in more than 60 years, according to Ventana Wildlife Society’s website.

Though they have no formal way of educating others they do have a few ways including monthly Condor-Zoom Chats where 200 or 300 people attend to learn about condors and their recovery.

 

 

Pictured is Condor 190, named “Redwood Queen,” at the redwood nest she and “Phoenix” are using located in Big Sur, CA. Photo by Tim Huntington

 

Prior to COVID-19, they would take 1,200 youth to the outdoors annually to learn about the environment and how to protect it.

Their website, Ventana Wildlife Society offers three solar powered “live” webcams (which when low on power show previous video). Two come from their Big Sur sanctuary with a third in San Simeon, all on private property. Most condors are active late morning to early afternoon. To help viewers identify a specific condor, they can access a “Condor Spotter” online at www.ventana.org and input the color and number of the wing tag. Viewers might also see mountain lions, bobcats, black-tailed deer, golden or bald eagles, ravens, or blue birds.

“I’m excited to share that our audience now includes more than a dozen countries and every state in the Union,” Sorenson said.

Looking back and towards the future, he feels Ventana Wildlife Society’s successful efforts such as with the bald eagle and California condor have served and continue to serve as an international model of success for others to follow Ventana Wildlife Society’s example.

“We can co-exist with wildlife if we just try to make a little effort and we believe the condor is worth saving for a variety of reasons, including the restoration of the niche they fill and the joy it will provide to people all over the world who care about protecting our natural world,” Sorenson said.

For more information about Ventana Wildlife Society, to donate or inquire about volunteer opportunities (limited at this time due to COVID-19), please visit online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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