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Endangered California Condor Recovered and Released After Cooperating Agencies Rallied to Save It

VERMILION CLIFFS, Ariz.– An endangered California Condor is back in the wild, after making a miraculous recovery from lead poisoning. Nearly five months after the bird was exposed to lead and first became sick, it was released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona.

Biologists from the bird conservation group, The Peregrine Fund, first confirmed a problem with the adult condor in the western Grand Canyon in February, and nearly every partner agency in Arizona's condor reintroduction program quickly responded to get the sick bird to the Phoenix Zoo for treatment. A Grand Canyon National Park helicopter crew flew two biologists from The Peregrine Fund in that same morning to trap and recover the bird. Another cooperator, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, quickly responded with a plane to fly the bird to the Phoenix Zoo. 

A staff veterinarian at the zoo, Dr. Kathy Orr, determined the condor was critically ill and had elevated blood lead levels. The condor was thin, dehydrated, unable to stand on its own and unable to swallow its food. The bird required several surgeries and was treated with several different drugs, including one to eliminate the lead from its body. The bird even required a blood transfusion, which was over-nighted to the Phoenix Zoo from another condor housed at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

The condor was finally able to stand on its own after a month of recovery at the zoo. Then, two and a half months later, it was taken to northern Arizona to a large cage where it could get strong enough for release into the wild. On 21 July, biologists from The Peregrine Fund and Phoenix Zoo staff witnessed the success of all their hard work as the condor was released at the Vermilion Cliffs to fly free again.

Dr. Orr exclaimed, "It warms my heart to see so many dedicated people from several different organizations rally to save this condor. After being involved with Arizona's California Condor program for nine years, I still get goose bumps seeing these birds fly free above the Grand Canyon."

A second male condor was also transported to the Phoenix Zoo in March with similar signs of lead poisoning. It received the same treatment, was transported back to a holding pen in northern Arizona, and is waiting for release back into the wild.

In 1982, only 22 California Condors were left in the world. Efforts to capture and breed those birds have been successful. Condors are now released throughout the year at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona. Fifty-eight condors currently fly free in Arizona, and nearly 300 California Condors are in existence worldwide. That includes free-flying birds in Arizona, California and Baja California, as well as captive birds in Idaho, California, and Oregon.

California Condors have been federally listed as endangered since 1967. As North America's largest flighted birds, they have a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet and can weigh between 18 and 22 pounds.

The condor reintroduction project in Arizona is a joint program with many partners, including The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Kaibab National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Phoenix Zoo and several others.

For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner

Director of Global Engagement

Main Phone:208-362-3716

Direct Phone:208-362-8277

Additional contact

Bill Heinrich, The Peregrine Fund (208) 362-3716, cell (208) 890-0163
Debbie Freeman, Arizona Game and Fish Department (602) 789-3215
Jeff Humphrey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (602) 242-0524, ext. 222
Keith Day, Utah Divisio