Safari Park Leads Condor Breeding Program

By Monica Garske
|  Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013  |  Updated 6:02 AM PDT
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San Diego's Cutest Critters

Ken Bohn/ San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Wesa, a two-week-old California condor chick, hatched on February 24, 2013, making this chick the first of the season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Here, she snuggles up to a condor puppet handled by her keeper.

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When it comes to condors, keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park know what they’re doing.

Over the years, Safari Park has taken the lead in a condor breeding program designed to bring more condors to the wild.

According to park officials, when the California Condor Recovery Program began in the 1980s, there were only 22 condors left in the world.

Since then, the Safari Park has hatched 173 condor chicks and released more than 80 birds into the wild, adding to the species population.

Today, park experts say there are nearly 400 California condors, half of which are flying free at release sites in Baja California, Mexico, California and Arizona.

On Monday, Safari Park’s senior condor keeper Ron Webb was photographed as he examined a condor egg on the brink of hatching (pictured below; photo by Ken Bohn). Using a technique known as “candling,” Webb is able to closely examine the egg using a bright, warm light.

The egg is part of the park’s successful condor breeding program.

Park officials say Webb has been working with California condors for more than 15 years. He’s able to monitor growth and development of blood vessels, and gauge when a chick will be able to break through their egg.

Webb says the egg he examined on Monday will hatch in about 21 days.

The park saw the first condor birth of the current season on Feb. 24, when “Wesa” (pictured above) was born.

Since then, keepers say Wesa has been growing strong, maintaining a healthy weight and quite an appetite. Keepers say the two-week-old condor eats up to 15 mice each day.

Webb has been monitoring the baby condor, puppet-rearing the chick as part of preparing Wesa to be released into the wild one day. In the photo above, Wesa cuddles up to a condor puppet.

“The puppet is like a fancy glove”, said Webb. “It covers our hands so the chick does not get any beneficial experiences from people. We do not want it imprinting on people or getting used to us when it goes out into the wild. We want it to be a nice, wild animal, not relying on people for food.”
 

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