California Condor celebrates 40 years saved from extinction, still endangered

California Condor celebrates 40 years saved from extinction, still endangered
Posted at 12:12 PM, Mar 11, 2023

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — A beautiful bird species with its huge wingspan and red beak probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren't for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

“It’s something I’m very proud of without any question,” conservation biologist Bill Toone said.

Toone worked with the park in the 1980s to create a program that would bring the California Condor back from near extinction.

“I got to play a lot of hands-on roles, which I really enjoyed, including bringing Sisquoc’s egg in from the wild and raising that bird,” Toone said.

Sisquoc was the first condor born in the program’s captivity. He turns 40 this month, and is now the proud father of 27 condors. The program brought the California Condor population from 21 to 518, but the bird is still critically endangered.

“We are pulling a species out of the river of extinction, but we need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in,” Toone said.

Condors eat dead animals to survive, and often those animals were shot by nearby hunters.

“They find something that’s dead and they start eating it. If it happens to have been shot by lead ammunition, they’re consuming pieces of lead in the meat,” said Ron Webb, the Lead Wildlife Care Specialist for Birds.

The result is lead poisoning.

“It’s still their leading cause of death, so in spite of all our captive successes, we haven't solved the problem,” Toone said.

Toone has now started his own nonprofit to support the species and battle extinction before it’s too late. He also recently published a book on his efforts called "On the Wings of the Condor," which is available for purchase on Amazon.