10:05 AM, October 21, 2008


As Tony Perry reports from San Diego, five candors evacuated from a breeding facility destroyed by last fall's wildfires are settling into their new home at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.

Athena, an Andean, was first to return, followed by Apollo, her mate. Their offspring, as yet unnamed, appeared to be a bit overwhelmed by the experience and preferred to wait until the human beings were not watching so closely.

But before long Monday morning, all five condors -- three Andeans and two Californians named Simerrye and Ojja -- had settled into the newly rebuilt breeding facility at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.

A year ago today, zookeepers had to evacuate the condors as the Witch fire moved relentlessly through the dry grass of the San Pasqual Valley. "I didn't believe it was happening," said condor keeper Sheila Murphy. "I could see the glow coming up over the mountain."

Within hours of the condors' evacuation, the breeding facility was destroyed by fire. In all, 600 acres of the park burned, although only two residents -- a clapper rail bird and a wild ass -- were lost. The condors have spent the last year in a smaller, less commodious facility in another part of the park.

That's Apollo, above left, and his mate, Athena, inside the aviary. Read Tony Perry's full report and see the photo gallery by Irfan Khan.

The Wild Animal Park also is involved in efforts to rebuild a condor sanctuary devastated by a wildfire this year in Big Sur.

-- Steve Padilla   

Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

6:31 PM, September 10, 2008

A 4-year-old female condor captured Friday in Big Sur and rushed to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment of lead poisoning has died, according to the Monterey County Herald:

The bird, identified as Condor No. 336, was shaking and weak when found by Ventana Wildlife biologist Sayre Flannagan, who caught it in a net on the ground in Big Sur.

Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, the only nonprofit group in California that breeds condors for introduction to the wild, said the condor was released three years ago at Pinnacles National Monument and was living and scavenging in Big Sur.

It was initially taken to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey, given a blood test that showed "really high, life-threatening levels" of lead, and given emergency treatment, according to Ventana Society senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett. The bird was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for more comprehensive veterinary treatment. (L.A.'s zoo has a condor habitat.)

The bird appeared to rally at first, he said, but weakened and succumbed Sunday.

A normal adult condor weighs 18 to 25 pounds, said Burnett. Condor No. 336 was down to 10.9 pounds when captured.

"It's hard to bounce back from a weight loss like that," Burnett said.

National Park Service superintendent Eric Brunneman at the Pinnacles told the County Herald that Condor No. 336 was "perhaps our most well-known condor," because the bird had been featured in a video on YouTube eating a deer heart:

Condor No. 336's death comes on the heels of a contentious battle over lead ammunition and the implementation on July 1 of a bill banning the use of lead ammunition in hunting.

California's condors are a fiercely guarded endangered species that has recently faced wildfire threats from Big Sur to L.A. and a West Coast-based struggle to procreate.

In the latest development in protection efforts, officials at the Pinnacles National Monument also announced today that a team of U.S. and Argentine scientists are joining forces in a five-year project to boost the condor population soaring above California and the Andes.

The Associated Press' Debora Rey reports:

Scientists from Pinnacles National Monument in central California visited Argentina this week to improve tracking and studying techniques of the birds, whose 9-foot wingspan has inspired reverence among indigenous people of the Americas for centuries.

The number of California condors is estimated at around 300 — half of which are in captivity — and they are still in danger of extinction. The Andean condor, a different species, has fared better: There are between 2,000 and 3,000 of the birds gliding over Argentina's snowy crags.

Argentine and U.S. scientists have been working together since the early 1980s, when the California condor was on the brink of extinction. U.S. scientists applied successful efforts in Argentina to breed condors in captivity and then release them to salvage a waning California population.

“The situation of the condors in both countries is grave,” said Pinnacles biologist Denise Louie.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

6:32 PM, August 10, 2008


This weekend in The Times, animal news abounds:

Margot Roosevelt reports: The California condor, a beloved but beleaguered bird, will be unable to survive on its own without a ban on lead ammunition across its vast western habitat, a scientific study has concluded.

Richard C. Paddock reports: Two firebomb attacks last week on UC Santa Cruz scientists who conduct animal research have angered and worried academics throughout the UC system, but the scientists say they will not be intimidated.

*Associated Press reports: Police don't apologize for shooting the two dogs of the mayor of Berwyn Heights in Maryland, described as an innocent victim in a marijuana smuggling scheme.*

On The Times' Outposts blog, Pete Thomas tells the fascinating tale of a woman who was attacked by a grizzly as she jogged on a trail Friday evening in Far North Bicentennial Park in Anchorage, Alaska.

Washington Post reports: Whole Foods Market has pulled fresh ground beef from all of its stores in the second E. coli outbreak linked to Nebraska Beef in as many months.

Home decor retailers face legal risks with animal artifacts such as feathers and bones from endangered species. Jeff Spurrier offers some tips on avoiding legal woes, including keeping proper documentation and being careful about online purchases.

In the Guide, Elina Shatkin compiles a list of off-leash dog parks in such places as the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, Palm Springs and Santa Monica (with a handy-dandy map to boot).

Want an encounter with a leopard shark? In Sunday's Travel section, Christopher J. Bahnsen advises you to head down the 405 Freeway to La Jolla.

And finally, The Times' Dish Rag maven Elizabeth Snead tries to answer a very important question: "Do Hollywood stars look cuter with puppies?" Judge for yourself after viewing Snead's photo gallery packed with more than 35 celebrities.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Chad Olson / Associated Press

*the first version of this post omitted the word "don't"

11:33 AM, July 28, 2008

The L.A. Zoo reopened this morning after firefighters knocked down a 25-acre blaze that briefly threatened the zoo and one of its California Condor breeding facilities, the Times's Stuart Pfeifer reports.

After the blaze broke out near the zoo Sunday afternoon, officials evacuated 4,000 visitors and relocated 18 California Condors and two king vultures from a breeding facility that was close to the fire.

--Tony Barboza

Read more L.A. Zoo reopens after wildfire threat »

6:19 PM, July 27, 2008

Condor_2 A hillside brush fire that broke out this afternoon in Griffith Park prompted an evacuation of the Los Angeles Zoo and came dangerously close to a California Condor breeding center.

The 15-acre blaze, which firefighters squelched in three hours, did not burn onto zoo property. But as a precaution, zoo officials evacuated more than 4,000 visitors at 1:05 p.m.,  said L.A. Zoo Spokesman Jason Jacobs.

Also evacuated were 18 California Condors and two King Vultures. Workers put the birds in crates and relocated them to an area of the zoo more distant from the fire.

The Condors West breeding center, one of two on zoo property, was of particular concern because it is in a secluded area that was closest to the wildfire, Jacobs said.

“Because of the heat, the smoke and the uncertainty of the fire, the decision was made to evacuate,” he said.

California Condors, known for their large wingspan, longevity, and population decline due to lead poisoning and habitat destruction, have been reintroduced to the wild largely through captive breeding programs like the one at the L.A. Zoo.

--Tony Barboza

Photo: Los Angeles Zoo

4:28 PM, July 7, 2008


This weekend, L.A. Unleashed told you about how the wildfires in Big Sur and Goleta are affecting animals -- pets having to be sheltered, animals forced from their habitat and some condor chicks may have been lost.

The Times' Steve Chawkins updates us on the endangered birds, which are very much still in danger:

Two weeks ago, the Coast Guard airlifted eight young birds that were not ready for release from a holding pen at Andrew Molera State Park to another shelter at Pinnacles National Monument.

But wildlife experts are worried about the 43 condors living in the wild in the Big Sur area -- particularly three chicks in nests within the fire zone.

"We can’t presume anything, but those chicks have a major uphill battle to survive," said biologist Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

Sorensen said the fire has kept observers out of condor territory for a week. Aerial surveillance indicated that one of the nests, high in a redwood tree, may have burned.

Thirty of the more mature condors living around Big Sur are all banded with transmitters that beam a radio signal a short distance. Of the remaining 10, which carry more sophisticated GPS devices, one has been spotted as far away as Atascadero, about 100 miles southeast of Big Sur.

"It’s a really challenging time -- not only for the birds but for us," said Sorenson, who said his organization is the only nonprofit group releasing condors and managing them in the wild. Its base of operations, which includes a staff cabin and two large pens for the condors -- is located in a Big Sur canyon that has been severely burned.

Below is a video of the Associated Press' report on the condor evacuation effort.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Orville Myers / Associated Press

6:03 PM, June 18, 2008

Betty_white_and_friends_at_the_f_3The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., or GLAZA, raised $1,209,011 at last weekend's 38th annual Beastly Ball. Close to 1,000 guests attended the event at the zoo, including  Zoo keeper Jennifer Gruenwald with “Grippy” (a gray horned owl); GLAZA President Connie Morgan, left; and Betty White, a long-time GLAZA trustee and host of the event's program. Chaired by Los Angeles Zoo Commissioner Kimberly Marteau Emerson, the ball celebrated the California Condor Recovery Project and the Zoo's role in helping to save the California condor from the brink of extinction.

--Photo: Jamie Pham

6:19 PM, June 13, 2008

A_visitor_ponds_with_a_young_potcakTodd Weller visited the sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean last fall, intending to kick back and relax. But he returned to his Bay Area home with more than just the usual souvenirs.

A wiggling, 9-week-old puppy named Mardi made the trip with him. In bringing the animal back to the United States, Weller became part of an international puppy airlift, an ongoing rescue effort that transports homeless Caribbean island dogs to the United States and Canada. The mixed breed dogs are known as potcakes.

Read all about the puppy airlift program in the Times Travel section at latimes.com. At right, Judy Smith, a visitor to the Turks and Caicos Islands, bonds with a young potcake.

Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

6:39 PM, June 7, 2008

Atishwin_will_serve_as_a_foster_fat The Portland Oregonian reports that the Oregon Zoo's California condor breeding season ended with good news and bad.

Tuesday, keepers celebrated the arrival of spring's fifth and final hatchling. Wednesday, they mourned the loss of another -- an ailing month-old chick that died during emergency surgery. Because California condors are critically endangered, each hatch brings the species closer to recovery, and each loss is keenly felt, said Shawn St. Michael, the zoo's condor curator.

Only about 300 of the huge, prehistoric-looking birds exist today. The chick that died had a tough go from the start.

The Oregon Zoo's program, which is off-limits to the public because of the birds' fragile status, has produced 15 eggs since it was established. The bird above will serve as foster father to the chick that hatched Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Associated Press reports that three endangered California condors were returned to the wild Friday after undergoing treatment at the Los Angeles Zoo for lead poisoning.

Photo: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo

4:19 PM, June 5, 2008


The Humane Society of the United States today urged a nationwide ban on lead-shot ammunition after the lead poisoning of critically endangered California condors. One of the birds has died, "evidence that this ammo keeps on killing long after it leaves the gun barrel," the society said.

"Like asbestos, lead shot is a lethal and cruel pollutant that has no place in our modern society,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the society, said in a statement released today.

“Discharging countless tons of lead-shot ammunition and dispersing it in open space areas throughout the nation is a prescription for slow agonizing deaths for wildlife, particularly for scavengers such as condors who feed on animals killed by lead shot and are then poisoned themselves," he said. "It's time for policymakers to stand up to the extremist voices within the hunting lobby and demand that hunters use nontoxic shot.”

The poisoned condors account for one-fifth of the entire Southern California population of the creatures.

California enacted a law forbidding the use of lead shot, and lead bullets, in condor territory beginning July 1.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Scott Frier / Associated Press

9:54 AM, June 4, 2008


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are in "crisis mode" because at least five endangered California condors have been found with lead poisoning in the weeks leading up to a statewide ban on lead bullets, the Associated Press reports.

The birds started turning up sick about a month ago during random trappings at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Kern County's southwestern San Joaquin Valley foothills. One bird died during treatment at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Since there are only about 34 of the endangered birds in Southern California, officials called the number significant.

Jesse Grantham, the agency's condor coordinator, said that officials won't know the source of the contamination until next week, but that the birds probably were poisoned by eating tainted carcasses at Bitter Creek, Lake Piru or Tejon Ranch. Of the three areas, only Tejon Ranch allows hunting.

Tejon spokesman Barry Zoeller told the AP that the landholder is worried. The ranch banned the use of lead bullets six months ago.

The condors aren't the only birds facing toxic threats in California.

Last month, The Times' Marla Cone reported that California's peregrine falcons, once driven to the edge of extinction by the pesticide DDT, are now contaminated with record-high levels of other toxic chemicals that may threaten them again.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Scott Frier/Associated Press