The Tenacious Trio: Three Condor Chicks Beat the Odds

Sonoran toad on a rock
News in the Zoo
February 1, 2021
Dr. Roger Arliner Young
Zoo Update with Denise Verret
February 1, 2021
Condor perched

The California condor chick formerly known as #LA1720. Photo by LouAnne Brickhouse

Last August, the L.A. Zoo’s first-ever conservation ambassador, professional storyteller, and vulture volunteer LouAnne Brickhouse, started chronicling the development and care of a California condor chick known as #LA1720. From uncertain beginnings as a malpositioned chick within the egg to a dramatic, keeper-assisted hatching, the eventual re-introduction to parents Sequoia and Squapuni, a terrifying overnight health scare, and more, the story of #LA1720 captivated thousands. So, it was only natural to invite this special chick's followers to choose a name that matches its inspiring journey. Condor Keepers Debbie Sears, Michael Clark, Chandra David, and Jon Guenther selected names that reflected significant elements of the California Condor Recovery Project (CCRP) and a voting/fundraising campaign was launched. The winning name would be determined by the amount of money donated.

On January 10, the campaign concluded, with Cal (short for California) as the winner and $30,769 raised by some 1,300 donors for the CCRP. Cal held the lead from the outset with Wallace (in honor of Dr. Michael P. Wallace, one of the founding figures in the CCRP) running second most of the time, and Timoloqin (Chumash for "to tell a story," because the California condor story has been so compelling) close behind. Yurok (in honor of the first indigenous tribe to join the CCRP) almost staged an upset, but Cal held the lead until the end.

California with parents Sequoia and Squapuni

California with parents Sequoia and Squapuni. Photo by LouAnne Brickhouse

"Cal is the youngest of the chicks that we have this year," comments Curator of Birds Mike Maxcy. "He is genetically valuable, so he will stay here for a while and eventually be paired with another bird for breeding. Since they are not sexually mature until five years of age, we won't know for quite a while if he remains here or is transferred to another zoo."

Cal was not the only chick to draw attention to the L.A. Zoo this year.

Central California’s Dolan fire, which raged through the Big Sur region and Pinnacles National Park between August and December, had a heavy impact on the CCRP, burning through the condor sanctuary on the Big Sur coast, including release and research facilities that the Ventana Wildlife Society manages.

Although two wild California condor chicks did not survive the blaze, three chicks were found alive. On September 2, chick #1033 (known as Eva) was saved from her nest, which was located in a cliff cavity directly in the path of the advancing fire line. A team of field biologists from the Ventana Wildlife Society, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Pinnacles National Park, evacuated and delivered her to the L.A. Zoo where she received treatment for lead toxicity and will remain until later this year when she is ready to be returned to the wild and reunited with her flock.

Person scaling a cliff
People caring for a condor
After field biologists evacuated #1033 from her nest, she was transferred to the Zoo. Photos courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society (above) and LouAnne Brickhouse (below)

On October 19, a second evacuated wild condor chick, SB1031, known to many through social media as Iniko, was transferred to the Zoo after field biologists discovered that the youngster had a leg injury. Both have since recovered and joined two other juvenile condors in the pre-release flight pen at the Zoo's condor facilities and all are doing well.

Keeper with condor

Condor Keeper Michael Clark with SB1031. Photo by LouAnne Brickhouse

"Just like the rest of us, California condors were negatively impacted by the curse of 2020," Maxcy concludes. "The Dolan fire ravaged prime condor nesting habitat in Big Sur and several wild birds fell ill from lead poisoning last year. Fortunately, the L.A. Zoo was able to come to the rescue, offering a safe home for these chicks and treat the sick birds, many of which have already been returned back to the wild."