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California Condor population recovering after being nearly extinct

Forty years ago there were only 22 California Condors alive and now there is somewhere around 560.

SAN DIEGO — It was 40 years ago when only 22 California Condors lived on this planet. Since the 1980's, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has played an integral role in bringing the condors back to life.

People may not praise them for their looks, “We often get comments like ‘ooh they’re ugly or ooh they’re bald’ some of us are like hey!” says Ron Webb the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's Lead Wildlife Care Specialist.

We can certainly thank them for their ability to rid the planet of germs. “They have a very acidic gizzard they can digest botulism, salmonella, and all kinds of nasty diseases,” said Webb.

California Condors are also considered "New World" vultures and eat only dead animals. Webb said, “In some communities in Africa, they call vultures the soap of the savannah they help clean up everything.”

However, they can't handle lead. Webb says hunters were shooting animals with lead bullets and when condors would eat that carrion, they'd die of lead poisoning. That is why there were only 22 California Condors in 1982. By the late 1980's, the California Condor Recovery Program proved to the world
this bird can be saved.

Webb says, “In 1988 one of the birds behind us, Moloka, was born 35 years ago this April. She was the only egg in the whole world hatched here and she showed people they could be bred in zoos and that got the ball rolling.”

That bird along with many others have had plenty of babies since.

In fact, we had a chance to see one of the newest babies at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The baby was born on March 13th, the first one of this season.

To check on the babies progress, we had to stay quiet because a big part of the recovery program is wildlife specialists don't want the birds to know that humans are helping.

In fact, this now fuzzy-looking bird was getting fed by a glove made to look like a condor. And the bird was clearly hungry. “We want to make sure they’re wild animals and not dependent on us.” There are cameras to watch them from afar.

It takes about 18 months to hatch an egg. The birds can also live for up to 6 decades, “This is Xolxol, he’s 41 years old. He’s our oldest bird we have here,” said Webb.

The goal is for each of their babies is to be released into the wild. 

With a population now of about 560 condors, they’re still considered critically
endangered. For people like Webb, he dreams of the day California Condors will spread their nearly 9.5-foot-long wing span and fly over San Diego again.

You can watch the Condor Cam through the SD Zoo Safari Park here.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego Zoo Safari Park celebrates 50th anniversary (May 2022)

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